A recent article by the BBC titled ‘Greece’s Invisible Minority’ caused much uproar among Greeks. Most notably, the Greek ambassador to the United Kingdom, Mr. Dimitris Caramitsos-Tziras, wrote a letter to the BBC protesting the publication of the article. His response was of little surprise to anyone familiar with Greece’s perennial attempts to whitewash the history of its Macedonian minority. As the Greek backlash against BBC’s account continues, we take a moment to break down Mr. Caramitsos-Tziras’ letter and address the inaccuracies and purposeful omissions contained in it.
Mr. Caramitsos-Tziras starts his letter by proclaiming that “there is only one minority in Greece, as recognized by international treaties, namely the Muslim minority”. By means of Greece’s systematic exclusion of minorities this statement is true. However, the reality is that Greece is home to numerous minorities, including a sizeable Macedonian minority. The Greek denial of minority rights was raised as an issue by the United Nations a decade ago, following an observation mission conducted in Greece. The report comes to the following conclusion:
“The independent expert urges the Government of Greece to withdraw from the dispute over whether there is a Macedonian or a Turkish minority in Greece and focus on protecting the rights to self-identification, freedom of expression and freedom of association of those communities. Their rights to minority protections must be honoured in accordance with the Declaration on Minorities and the core international human rights treaties. Greece should comply fully with the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights, specifically those decisions that associations should be allowed to use the words “Macedonian” and “Turkish” in their names and to express their ethnic identities freely.”
Mr. Caramitsos-Tziras continues the letter by reminding the BBC that Greece does not recognize the existence of the Macedonian language. The Ambassador quotes the Prespa Agreement, which defines the Macedonian language “exclusively as the official language of North Macedonia”. Mr. Caramitsos-Tziras is in fact right to point out that the Prespa Agreement attempts to construct a new definition for an existing language that has been used by Macedonians throughout history. The language provision of the Prespa Agreement is only the latest manifestation of a century old effort by Greek authorities to wipe out Macedonian language.
The next two paragraph of Mr. Caramitsos-Tziras’ letter deal with the issue of implicit recognition of Macedonian ethnicity. The Ambassador claims that “Greece retains the right to refer to the citizens that comprise the ethnic majority in our neighboring country with the terms used to-date, whereas they retain the right to self-identification”. The Ambassador failed to note the rich history of Greek campaigns, both international and domestic, that sought to eradicate the existence of a Macedonian minority and prevent “Slavic speakers” from self-identifying as Macedonians. For example, in recent bilateral history Greece has used the derogatory term “Skopianos” to refer to Macedonians. Successive Greek governments have also embarked on diplomatic missions intended to rollback international recognition of Macedonia and Macedonians. Domestically, Greece has a long history of denying the existence of a Macedonian minority. Most noteworthy is Greek dictator Metaxas’ 1936 order of prohibition 122770, which made it illegal for Macedonians to speak Macedonian and forcibly changed Macedonian names into Greek ones.
Finally, Mr. Caramitsos-Tziras points out that the Prespa Agreement contains no reference to Macedonia retaining its right to support Macedonians in neighboring countries. This is one of the many reasons why the Prespa Agreement serves as yet another attempt by Greece to whitewash of its history. Refusal to acknowledge the existence of a Macedonian minority in Greece is central to the Greek effort to circumvent its past and present treatment of Macedonians.
In sum, Mr. Caramitsos-Tziras’ response to the BBC article is filled with inaccuracies and purposeful omissions. The Ambassador’s praise of specific Prespa Agreement provisions which nullify the right of Macedonians to repatriate their rights and losses is unbecoming for a member state of the European Union. We hope that future Greek efforts to distort history and disseminate lies about its treatment of Macedonians will be met with an appropriate international condemnation.
The views of the author may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Macedonian Diaspora and Generation M.