Washington, D.C. Panel: The Rise of Extremism in Greece and Its Impact on Minorities

On October 23, 2012, the United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) hosted a panel discussion in Washington, D.C. to address the rise of extremism in Greece and what impact it has had on native, ethnic, migrant and religious minorities in Greece.  The panel featured Archimandrite Nikodim Tsarknias, the representative of Greece’s Macedonian Orthodox religious community, Sali Bollati, Secretary-General of the Albanian American Organization Chameria, Eugenia Natsoulidou, UMD Greece Representative, and Sevin Elekdag, Research Fellow at the Turkish Coalition of America.  The panelists discussed the problems their respective minority groups face in Greece on an everyday basis, and all pointed out to the systematic targeting of everyone non-Greek. 


“Greece is the only European Union member-state that has no separation of church and state and the only faith-based community recognized with special privileges is the Greek Orthodox Church, which is embedded within the Greek Constitution – the root of the problem in Greece,” said Archimandrite Tsarknias. 


Bollati, who was born in Greece and expelled during the Greek Civil War, elaborated on the struggle of the Albanian Cham community since the War to present day.  He stated that according to Greek politicians there is no such thing as a “Cham issue,” however his presentation clearly disputed this.


Natsoulidou, who resides in Edessa (Voden), Greece, stressed, “Extremism and xenophobia are deeply rooted within the Greek state and society and is starting to appear more on the surface due to the economic crisis facing Greece.  Hellenizing minorities has been a tactic used by the Greek state for over a century.”  


Speaking on behalf of the Turkish minority in Greece, Elekdag stated, “If we are to adopt an even handed approach to human rights issues then we have a responsibility to address the current grievances and longstanding human rights violations of the Turkish minority in Western Thrace.  This issue has received little to no attention to date, and I am thus grateful for the opportunity to raise awareness on this pressing matter.” 


European Union member-state Greece is home to Macedonian and Turkish native minorities, with sizable Albanian, Roma and migrant populations and religious communities such as Catholics and Jews.  Known as the cradle of democracy, Greece has seen a significant democratic deficit especially towards its minorities.  Recently, the Chrysi Avgi (Golden Dawn), the Greek neo-Nazi political party, which denies the Holocaust ever occurred, has risen in popularity, given the deepening economic crisis in the country.  The right wing extremist group has secured 18 seats – 6 percent of the total – in the Greek parliament against a backdrop of increased anti-Semitic and xenophobic rhetoric throughout the country. 


Previous Archimandrite Tsarknias Meets U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom


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