The Macedonian Tendency: "The Economist" on Macedonians in Greece

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"The Economist" on Macedonians in Greece

By David Edenden

This article by The Economist is 15 years old and not much has changed for the Macedonians in Greece. "Cultural Genocide "1", Human Rights "0". RFE, NDI, IWPR and ICG have never even acknowledged that Macedonians in Greece exist, let alone fight for their rights. These are pseudo-rights groups and not friends of Macedonia. It's a pity that they scurry around Macedonia lecturing Macedonians about human rights. It's just enough to destabilize the Balkans. It enough to make you spit!

Do not disagree
The Economist London:Aug 14, 1993

For a former newspaper editor of liberal opinions, Greece's prime minister has some odd ideas about freedom of speech. Six cases are going through the Greek courts in which the defendants, some say, have done nothing more heinous than disagree with Constantine Mitsotakis's government over a patch of the map. This is the country of Macedonia, which Greeks prefer to call "Skopje", the name of its capital, or maybe FYROM (the acronym for Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia).

Greece still says it will not let the world recognize Macedonia under the name of Macedonia, arguing that this would imply a territorial claim on a northern Greek province also called Macedonia. To publicise its views, Greece is conducting a vigorous propaganda campaign. "Macedonia is Greek and only Greek" is a slogan that greets visitors at airports and is emblazoned on public buildings all over the country.

More worryingly, Greeks who disagree publicly with their government on the subject can find themselves in court. Next month four members of an anti-nationalist group will appeal against a 19-month sentence for "disseminating false information" and "attempting to incite violence". Their offence was to distribute a leaflet with the title, "Our neighbors are not our enemies. No to nationalism and to war." An 18-year-old student, Michael Papadakis, is also waiting for an appeal hearing against a one-year sentence he received for distributing a leaflet that called Alexander the Great, the most famous Macedonian of all, a war criminal. It added "Macedonia belongs to its people. There are no races. We are all of mixed descent." Mr Papadakis was charged with attempting to incite division among citizens, disturbing the peace and carrying a weapon. No evidence was produced in court to substantiate the last charge.

Some of the laws invoked in these and other cases are arcane. One forbids publicly insulting the government or the prime minister. That was a charge levelled at a newspaper proprietor, George Bobolas (who once fought an indecisive court battle with The Economist Group over an article in one of its newsletters). In none of the cases has anyone been charged with acts of violence. The charges, says Helsinki Watch, a human-rights organisation, "are based purely on publicly expressed opinions that conflict with the views of the Greek government." Although the undersecretary for foreign affairs has said that some of the trials are a mistake, the government has not dropped any changes. In one case, the public prosecutor even appealed against a unanimous verdict of not guilty.

Few Greeks claim that their judiciary is fully independent. Promotion for judges often depends on political links. Senior jurists are among the highest-paid public-sector employees. They may not take bribes, but they listen to their political masters. Those convicted on these curious charges are unlikely to go to jail. The aim seems to be to intimidate others who might wish to open a debate about Macedonia--or about the people in northern Greece whom the government calls "Slavophone Greeks"

If this were anywhere but Greece, these people, who speak the Slav language of neighbouring Macedonia, would be called the Macedonian minority. Officially, how ever, there are no ethnic minorities in Greece (though the 90,000 Turks in Thrace are referred to as the Muslim minority: "Slavophone Greeks" number between 10,000 and 50,000 according to America's State Department. Many claim to have suffered discrimination because their families fought for the communists in the Greece civil war in the late 1940s. Some are in trouble for wanting to form organisations to preserve their language and culture.

Christos Sidiropoulos and Tassos Bouli have both received five-month sentences for "spreading false information and instigating conflict". They did this, apparently, by telling a Greek magazine that they "feel Macedonian" and by claiming that 1m people in Greece feel the same way.

Many countries suppress free speech. But these trials are taking place in a member of the European Community. Greece is already unpopular with its EC partners for being intransigent about the recognition of Macedonia. It is frequently criticised by international human-rights groups for its attitude towards the Slav-speakers. The only ray of light is that these messages of condemnation may now at last be getting through to Mr Mitsotakis.

The "Movement of Macedonians", set up by Slav-speakers in a small Greek town near the border with Macedonia, has lately found life less difficult. Its members are no longer harassed by the local police. Its monthly newspaper, in Slav-Macedonian, has reappeared after a long gap. One of its founders, Christos Pritskas, says: "We have a dialogue going with the government. Our request for Slav-Macedonian to be taught in schools is under consideration. The atmosphere has definitely changed in the past few months." Not before time.

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