Greece’s Macedonian Minority Brought Up During Council of Europe PA Session

The United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) applauds Mr. Aleksandar Nikoloski, head of the Macedonian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), for bringing up the systematic discrimination against the Macedonian minority, among others, in Greece during yesterday’s PACE session.

Following the 2012 annual activity report of the CoE Commissioner for Human Rights Mr. Nils Muižnieks, Mr. Nikoloski used the opportunity to question the Commissioner about his April 16th report on the rise of hate crimes in Greece, mostly as a result of the activities of the neo-Nazi political party Golden Dawn. Mr. Nikoloski also noted the lack of religious freedom for Archimandrite Nikodim Tsarknias, the religious leader of the Macedonian Orthodox Church in Greece.

UMD thanks Mr. Nikoloski, and encourages more members of the PACE to speak up against ethnic and religious discrimination not only within Greece, but also in all of Europe. Mr. Nikoloski was a speaker at the 2nd Annual UMD Global Conference in Toronto, Canada in June 2010.

Below is the exchange between Mr. Nikoloski and Mr. Muižnieks. For the full read-out of the session, please click HERE.

Mr NIKOLOSKI – You said that you had produced a report on Greece. You will know that Greece recognises not national minorities but only religious minorities. That is a 19th century approach, not a 21st century approach. Greece has not allowed the Macedonian, Vlach, Albanian or Turkish minorities to organise themselves into political parties or non-governmental organisations, to speak their own language, to have their own schools, or to speak their language in schools. What will you do to challenge that? What is your opinion of a country that is a member of this Organisation taking such an approach and not ratifying or signing many of the documents it is obliged to ratify and sign?

Mr MUIŽNIEKS – On a recent visit to Greece, we touched on a number of those issues. We talked about the non-ratification of the conventions on minorities with the authorities and we pushed them on the implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in a number of cases pertaining to minorities. Our focus was on racist violence, the rise of Golden Dawn and the role of the police. It was clear that not only migrants of recent origin have been the target of racist attacks but Roma who have been living in the country for many years, Muslims in Western Thrace and other groups, too. I met representatives of those groups and we tried to reflect their concerns, and the focus of the report was those issues rather than the broader issue of minority rights. If judgments of the European Court of Human Rights are implemented and the issue of racist violence is addressed effectively then not only migrants but long-standing minority populations will benefit.

Mr NIKOLOSKI – I wish to discuss a similar subject to the previous speaker, in that I wish to talk about the functioning of democracy, and respect for human rights, minority rights and civil rights in Greece. Today, the Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Muižnieks, clearly stated that hate speech is on the rise in Greece. He has also said that Greece must take tougher measures to combat the racism and violence linked to the rise in popularity of the ultra-right Golden Dawn, which has been described as a neo-Nazi party. Golden Dawn emerged as a party in last June’s general elections, winning a stunning 18 states in the 300-seat parliament in Greece. Given Greece’s political and electoral system, that is a big result. The party is linked to hate crime activities.

The Commissioner for Human Rights has said that Greece would be fully within its rights under international human rights law to ban the party from public office. He has said ““Democracy in Greece is seriously threatened by the upsurge of hate crime and a weak state response. Sustained and concerted action, notably by the police and the courts, is necessary to protect the rule of law and human rights in the country.”

The European Jewish Congress has welcomed a report by the Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation in Greece and, in particular, on the Golden Dawn’s racism and hate. EJC president, Moshe Kantor, said “This report is a strong milestone against growing racism, hate and intolerance in Greece and we welcome the report and call for its full implementation by the Greek authorities”. He continued by saying “Most importantly, it called for the possible prohibition of the neo-Nazi party because of activities associated with it. This is a necessary first for an official European institution and we hope the situation will be monitored very carefully.”

Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms is at the core of this Assembly, which is why I must inform you that Nikodim Tsarknias, the religious leader of the Macedonian Orthodox Church in Greece, has no right of religious declaration and, thus, he has a problem. Can you imagine an Orthodox priest in an Orthodox country not having all his freedoms simply because he is not Greek and instead is Macedonian, and speaks Macedonian? So I ask you all to take what the Commissioner for Human Rights says seriously and I ask that serious steps be taken to fulfil what he has set out.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Nikoloski.

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