UMD: International Community Pressure On Greece Needed to Ensure Freedom of Religion

On the eve of International Religious Freedom Day, the United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) calls on the international community to strongly condemn the Greek government’s ongoing denial of basic religious freedoms to all Greek citizens. 

 

On October 27th, the world observes that: “…everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others, in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”  This right is explicitly stated in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

 

Greece is the only European Union country that does not have any real division between Church and State.  The Greek Orthodox Church is a state-funded enterprise, and the clergy are nominally considered public servants.  In practice, however, they act as political instruments of state oppression. 

 

Since before the Greek government’s annexation of Macedonian territory in 1913, the Greek Orthodox Church has actively been furthering the repression of all ethnic and religious minorities in the country, particularly the Macedonian community in Aegean Macedonia.  A well-known current example of this political function are the radical sermons of Metropolitan Anthimos of Thessaloniki (Solun), which are regularly broadcast on national television, and which have included, among other hateful comments, a public call for a Macedonian radio station to be smashed into “glass and nails.” (Please see: http://umdiaspora.org/index.php/en/civil-rights-contents/410-umd-calls-for-greek-metropolitans-excommunication

 

Although the Greek Constitution provides for religious diversity, the state does not guarantee that right to its citizens in practice.  Any new religious organization must register with the Greek State to obtain legal status, and the consent of a representative of the Greek Orthodox Church is required for this process, thus ensuring that no such registration will ever take place. 

 

The Greek government officially denies its sizable Macedonian minority, and Macedonian religious leaders such as Archimandrite Nikodim Tsarknias have been beaten and arrested by state authorities.  Tsarknias’s Macedonian Orthodox Church, Sveta Zlata Meglenska, in Aridea (S’botsko), has faced various forms of harassment. 

 

Furthermore, the long-standing Turkish minority in Thrace (and other large Muslim communities across Greece) has suffered serious human rights violations, while non-Christian migrants have regularly been assaulted by members of neo-Nazi groups like the Chrysi Avgi (“Golden Dawn”), a fully recognized political party in Greece with 18 members of Parliament.  Greek police have abdicated their responsibility to protect religious minorities, and many Greek police officers are Chrysi Avgi members themselves. 

 

UMD calls upon the international community, the UN, the European Union, and other organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, to strongly condemn Greece’s ongoing policy of denying religious freedom, which violates international human rights accords that Greece signed almost 60 years ago.   

 

UMD’s activities in the month of October are focused on bringing to the attention of the public the human rights abuses suffered by the Macedonian minority in Greece.  To this extent, on October 23, 2012, UMD will host an event on “The Rise of Extremism in Greece and Its Impact on Minorities” in Washington D.C.  On October 27, 2012, UMD Canada will host its annual Gala event, including Archimandrite Nikodim Tsarknias, and UMD Regional Representative for Greece, Eugenia Natsoulidou in Toronto.