UMD Sends Letter to U.S. State Department Regarding Archimandrite Tsarknias

Greece continues to deny the right to religious minorities to open up their own religious institutions. On Friday, October 24, 2008, the United Macedonian Diaspora sent a letter to Assistant Secretary David J. Kramer of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor regarding the continuous discrimination policies of the Greek state against The Very Reverend Archimandrite Nikodimos Tsarknias, a Greek citizen born and raised in Greece who is trying to start a Macedonian Orthodox Church.

Assistant Secretary David J. Kramer
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
U.S. Department of State
Harry S. Truman Building
2201 C Street, NW, Room 7802
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Assistant Secretary Kramer:

UMD is disappointed at the omission of the plight of The Very Reverend Archimandrite Nikodimos Tsarknias of Greece from the latest International Religious Freedom Report.

In 2004, Archimandrite Tsarknias, an ethnic Macedonian born and raised in Greece, was sentenced to three months in prison by a Greek court for performing religious services in the Macedonian language for a congregation of ethnic Macedonians in Greece.  The sentence could not be appealed in Greece and is currently being appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).  Archimandrite Tsarknias’ case is well-known to the State Department and was addressed in International Religious Freedom Reports from 2004 through 2007.  Moreover, in 2007 UMD organized meetings for Archimandrite Tsarknias with the State Department’s Greek Desk Officer and Human Rights Officer at which he personally described his plight.

The pending EHRC appeal is no reason to exclude this case from the report on religious freedom in Greece.  On the contrary, the persecution of Archimandrite Tsarknias by the Greek government has fostered an on-going atmosphere of distrust and animosity not just towards him and his religious practices, but also towards ethnic Macedonians in Greece, and has further impeded on their right to freely exercise their religion.

In the torrent of anti-Macedonian hatred in which Greece has been enthralled since its veto of Macedonia’s NATO membership, Archimandrite Tsarknias was further abused by the Greek government and/or by Geek citizens.  On April 3 and 4, 2008, Greek students from a local secondary school repeatedly vandalized Archimandrite Tsarknias’ home.  Local police took no action to bring the perpetrators to justice or to prevent future attacks.  When Archimandrite Tsarknias went to the local school to address the incident with the school administrators, he was met by a mob of students and teachers who verbally attacked and harassed him, telling him that he was not wanted in Greece and that he should “go back north”, referring to the Republic of Macedonia.  Most disturbingly, the teachers and administrators not only failed to prevent the students’ dishonorable behavior; they actually joined in the abuse and encouraged the students.   

The harassment and attacks against Archimandrite Tsarknias are a clear reflection of Greece’s inclination to persecute any of its citizens who think differently and who speak a different language either in their daily lives or in the exercise of their religion.  The right to free exercise of religion is a core freedom that must be protected in all free nations.  UMD therefore urges the State Department to be thorough in its inclusion of such incidents in the International Religious Freedom Report, and to carefully monitor this matter until Greece ceases its religious persecution of not just Archimandrite Tsarknias but of all ethnic Macedonians in Greece.

Sincerely,
United Macedonian Diaspora 

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Founded in 2004, United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) is an international non-governmental organization addressing the interests and needs of Macedonians and Macedonian communities throughout the world.

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