UMD Letter to Australian Prime Minister Howard

The Hon John Howard MP
Prime Minister
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Parliament House
CANBERRA  ACT  2600

Dear Prime Minister:

It is our understanding that you will have the opportunity to meet with the Greek Prime Minister, Kostas Karamanlis, during his visit to Australia from 21-26 May 2007.  As concerned Australians with Macedonian heritage, we would like to bring to your attention the following: (1) Greece’s treatment of its minorities; and (2) its relations with the Republic of Macedonia.  Please take our concerns into consideration when meeting with the Greek Prime Minister and raise them with him.

These two issues are interrelated.  Greece refuses to recognise Macedonia’s constitutional name because it fears that if it does so, it would then need to recognise the existence of the Macedonian minority in northern Greece, along with a host of other minorities indigenous to the Greek state.  The existence of minorities in Greece is anathema to Greek nationalism.

In 1992, the Greek government, in a fit of xenophobia and fear demanded that newly independent Macedonia find an alternative name and national symbols.  At the same time, Greek extremists around the world, including certain Greek émigré organisations in Australia, began to claim that Macedonia “belongs” to Greece.  Macedonia originally refused to acquiesce to the Greek demands.  That refusal resulted in a devastating economic embargo imposed upon Macedonia by Greece that only ended in 1995 when Macedonian authorities, under clear duress, signed an unfair and imbalanced Interim Accord with Athens.

This Interim Accord is unique, as it is the first instance in history where one state is actively denying another state’s sovereign right to name itself, in direct defiance of the UN Charter and its guarantees of national self-determination.  Ironically, Athens demands that negotiations on Macedonia’s name continue under the same UN auspices despite the violation of both the letter and spirit of the UN Charter by Greece that sparked the purported “name dispute.”

Despite the Interim Accord, over 120 countries worldwide, including the
United States, Russia, China, Poland, Turkey, as well as Macedonia’s immediate neighbours, Bulgaria and Serbia, all recognize Macedonia as the Republic of Macedonia.  To date, the only state with any objection to Macedonia’s use of its legal, constitutional and historic name is Greece.

What the Greek government fails to recognize is its attitude towards its sizable Macedonian minority.  A verifiable and well-documented genocide and ethnic cleansing of Macedonians in Greece occurred after the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) during which Greece occupied southern (Aegean) Macedonia, following the Greek-Turkish war (1921-1923) and during the Greek Civil War (1946-1949).

Today, Macedonians in Greece are forbidden by law from: (1) speaking their native language in public; (2) singing their traditional folk songs; and (3) worshiping God in their native language.  Macedonians in Greece have also had their family names forcibly transliterated into Greek and have suffered as Greece has changed all Macedonian toponyms for all cities, towns and villages in Aegean Macedonia to Greek toponyms.  Greek oppression of the Macedonian minority extends even to the dead as cemetery headstones originally carved in the Macedonian Cyrillic script are desecrated and replaced with Greek-inscribed ones (the names were transliterated).

Refugees from the genocide of the 20th century who list in their passports the Macedonian (and not Greek) name of their birthplace are declared persona non grata and are denied entry into Greece and often mocked and humiliated by Greek border police.  Many Australian citizens of Macedonian descent, carrying Australian passports, have been afforded such treatment.  For many of these refugees, the use of the Macedonian name for their birthplace is not an issue of nationalism, but a simple failure to know the Greek names instituted for their hometowns after the Greek occupation.  All of this discrimination is happening in the so-called “Cradle of Democracy”.

In a recent interview, the Greek Foreign Minister stated the following:

I am proud of the capacity of Greek democracy.  All citizens of Greece have equal rights.  I am sure that you already know that in Greece there is only one minority in Western Thrace and those are the Muslims.  There is no such thing as ‘a Macedonian minority.

However, the Minister failed to mention that recently the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg found that Greece continues to violate the basic civil rights of the Macedonian minority in Greece. Further, the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly submitted a motion on 17 April 2007 calling on Greece to respect the rights of its Macedonian minority and to ratify the Framework Convention on the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Minority Languages.
State sponsored discrimination against minorities in Greece is also being condemned by the international community through criticism from the US State Department, Amnesty International, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups, but the primary focus still fails to connect the Macedonia name issue to the problem of Greek state sponsored discrimination.

We urge you to continue the Australian tradition of lending a hand to those in need by encouraging the Greek Prime Minister and his Government to end its oppression of Greece’s minorities.  As Australians, we cannot idly sit by while innocent people are slandered by a state which refuses to acknowledge the existence of any ethnic minorities on its territory, and which uses its history, ties to the West, and powerful Diaspora as a smokescreen for genocide. This goes against our traditions of mateship, a fair go and respect for diversity.

We trust you will take our concerns into consideration in light of your meeting with Mr Karamanlis and look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Tom Vangelovski
Australia Office

United Macedonian Diaspora
GPO Box 900 Canberra, ACT 2601 Australia

Phone: +61 (0) 4 14 441 579

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