UN Report Recommends Greece withdraw from Dispute over Existence of Macedonian Minority

Summary prepared by UMD team. 

Click HERE for full report. 

The United Nations independent expert on minority issues and former Executive Director of Global Rights: Partners for Justice, Gay J. McDougall, visited Greece between September 8th and 16th of 2008.  Under the auspices of the United Nations, she issued the United Nations official findings on the human rights of minorities in Greece on February 18, 2009.  In the report, Ms. McDougall recommends that Greece withdraw from the dispute over whether there is a Macedonian or a Turkish minority within its borders.  Rather, her report urges Greece to focus on protecting the rights of minorities in Greece to self-identification, freedom of expression and freedom of association.  Further, the report recommends that Greece honor the rights of these communities to avail themselves of those minority protections listed in the Declaration on Minorities and those enumerated in numerous core international human rights treaties to which Greece is a signatory.

In addition, Greece is required to comply fully with the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, specifically those decisions that permit associations based in Greece to use the words “Macedonian” and “Turkish” in their names and to express their ethnic identities freely.  While in Greece, McDougall traveled to different regions and consulted extensively with senior government representatives and public officials at national and regional levels.  Discussions also were held with civil society organizations, religious leaders, academics and community leaders.  The report’s findings focus on the extent to which legislation, policy and practice fulfill solemn obligations imposed upon signatories under international human rights law, including minority rights.  The findings point out that these treaties take precedence over bilateral treaties and agreements.

A special section in the report refers to Macedonian minorities in the Florina/Lerin region.  McDougall states that the Greek government does not recognize the existence of a Macedonian ethnic minority living in that part of Greece and it rejects the existence of the Macedonian language there.  The response of earlier Greek governments was to suppress any use of the Macedonian language and discourage all related cultural activities.  It is noted in the report that in recent times these harsh tactics, the findings continue, have ceased but those identifying themselves as ethnic Macedonians continue to report discrimination and harassment.  “They consider it of crucial importance for their continued existence that their ethnic identity and distinctiveness is respected. The Macedonian language is not recognized, taught, or a language of tuition in schools” the report states.

McDougall reported that in the 1920s and 1930s, Greek laws required the replacement of non-Greek names of towns, villages, rivers and mountains with Greek names.  The family names of the Macedonian-speaking population were also required to be changed to Greek names.  Individuals seeking to re-instate Macedonian family names have had their petitions refused by authorities on administrative grounds.  Community representatives note that traditional names continue to be in common usage and are on record calling for the reinstatement and the official acceptance of the use of a dual nomenclature (e.g., Florina/Lerin).  The report notes that Greece only recognizes one minority, the Muslim religious minority in Western Thrace.  It does not recognize the minority status of other existing communities.  McDougall states in the report that she met numerous individuals who identified themselves as ethnic Macedonians and were fluent in the Macedonian language.  She encountered others who are not fluent due to the absence of Macedonian language instruction in Greece.  The Greek Government is convinced that claims of the existence of other minorities are unsubstantiated and politically motivated.

The report notes that many interviewees described pressure not to display their Macedonian identity or to speak Macedonian, previously banned in some villages.  Notwithstanding their claim of the existence of distinct Macedonian-populated villages, they described a general fear to demonstrate their identity.  Some recounted personal experiences of harassment including aggressive interrogation at borders, being physically attacked allegedly due to his ethnic identity and membership of the Rainbow Party (The political party in Greece that generally consists of Macedonians).  The report quotes one representative as stating: “Greece does not trust the people who live here because they don’t feel Greek – they don’t speak Greek.”

Representatives of the Macedonian minority state that the right to freedom of association has been denied and cite a string of unsuccessful efforts to do so dating back almost twenty years to 1990 to register the organization “Home of Macedonian Culture” in Florina.  The Greek judiciary refused to register the organization on the grounds that its objective was to promote the concept that “there is a Macedonian minority in Greece, which is contrary to the national interest and subsequently contrary to law.”  In 1998, the European Court of Human Rights found Greece in violation of Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights relating to freedom of association.  Subsequent domestic court decisions have failed to conform to the European Court finding and the Home of Macedonian Culture remains unregistered.

These same representatives pointed out a series of discriminatory laws adopted by the Greek government that affect the ability of the thousands of refugees who fled Greece during the Civil War, and who, by reason of these very laws, were stripped of their citizenship and property.  A 1982 law (Law no. 106841), for example, stated that, “Free to return to Greece are all Greek by Genus who during the civil war of 1946-1949 and because of it have fled abroad as political refugees.”  This decision pointedly excludes those identifying themselves as ethnic Macedonians and is therefore considered discriminatory. Law No. 1540, promulgated in 1985, stipulated that political exiles may reclaim confiscated property, once again with the key proviso that only “Greeks by Genus” qualify.

This independent report under the auspices of the United Nations sheds a clarifying light on the circumstances underlying the existing and long-standing violation of the most basic human rights of the Macedonian community in Greece.  The report provides a vital insight into the reasons why Greece has continued to overreach its jurisdiction and impose a change to the constitutional name of the Republic of Macedonia.

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