Greece should withdraw from dispute over existence of Macedonian minority - UN report
Greece should withdraw from the dispute over whether there is a Macedonian or a Turkish minority on its territory and focus on protecting the rights to self-identification, freedom of expression and freedom of association of those communities
reads a recommendation in the report by the UN independent expert on minority issues Gay McDougall, who paid a visit to Greece on September 8-16, 2008.
According to McDougall, the rights of these communities to minority protections must be honoured in accordance with the Declaration on Minorities and the core international human rights treaties. Greece is required to 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.
A special section in the report refers to the minorities in the Florina region. McDougall says the Greek government does not recognize the existence of a Macedonian ethnic minority living in that part of Greece, nor the existence of the Macedonian language.
"Many consider this a modern day version of Tito's efforts to create a myth of a Macedonian nation giving support to his expansionist claims against that region of Greece. The response of earlier Greek governments was to suppress any use of the Macedonian language and cultural activities. In recent times the harsh tactics have ceased but those identifying as ethnic Macedonian still report discrimination and harassment. They consider it of crucial importance for their continued existence that their ethnic identity and distinctiveness is respected", reads the report.
McDougall notes that in the 1920s and 30s, laws required the replacement of non-Greek names of towns, villages, rivers and mountains with Greek names. The family names of the Macedonian-speaking population were also required to be changed to Greek names. Community representatives note that traditional names continue to be in common usage and call for reinstatement and the official usage of a dual nomenclature.
Macedonian minority representatives claim denial of the right to freedom of association and political activity, and highlight discriminatory laws affecting thousands who fled Greece during the Civil War, who were stripped of their citizenship and property. A 1982 law stated that, "Free to return to Greece are all Greek by Genus who during the civil war of 1946-1949 and because of it have fled abroad as political refugees". This decision excludes those identifying as ethnic Macedonians and is therefore considered discriminatory.
McDougall says in the report that she had met numerous individuals identifying as ethnic Macedonians, who are fluent in Macedonian language. It was acknowledged that the situation had improved from a previous era, however they described a "softer discrimination", manifested in general hostility and pressure on the part of authorities and the media.
The report notes that Greece recognizes only one minority, the Muslim religious minority in Western Thrace, but does not recognize the minority status of other communities. The Government is convinced that the claims of the existence of other minorities are unsubstantiated and politically motivated. Greece recognizes that only a small number of people speak the Slavic dialect similar to the language spoken in the neighboring country on the north.
During the stay in Greece, McDougall travelled to different regions and conducted extensive consultations with senior government representatives and public officials at the national and regional levels, but also consulted civil society organizations, religious leaders, academics and community leaders. The independent expert is concerned with matters solely within the domestic jurisdiction of the Government of Greece relating to its treatment of minorities and disadvantaged groups inside the country. Her concerns focus on the degree to which legislation, policy and practice fulfil obligations under international human rights law, including minority rights, which have precedence over bilateral treaties and agreements.
The UN Report also notes the discrimination towards Roma in Greece. The independent expert visited Roma communities which lacked basic facilities and faced the constant threat of eviction. Many Roma children are either in segregated schools or do not have
access to education owing to their identity.