Minority protection in (times of) crisis – exert pressure on Greece

You rightly may feel sorry for the people in Greece. Because of mistakes they did not cause, but were the result of the negligence on the part of a political elite, the whole country has to undergo painful reforms. That the rescue operations rather save the creditors than help the citizens of this Balkan state who are suffering hardship now, is only mentioned in passing. There is now a strong intervention in the self-image of the country and the population. Institutions and laws are being transformed and many far-reaching changes are implemented as a result of external pressure.

In times of financial horror stories during which there are “no alternatives”, this may sound naive: why is the European Union not using the crisis in a country “balancing on the brink of the abyss” to increase the pressure in order to solve even more profound, societal problems. Foremost the approach to minorities, which defies any description. Why are neither the European Council (the heads of state and governments), nor the European Commission or the European Parliament urging Greece to recognise the minorities living in the Greek state who they are?

Greece denies that there are minorities in Greece.

Only the “Muslim minority” has been recognised as such according to the Treaty of Lausanne from the year 1923. The Pomaks (Bulgarian-speaking Muslims), the Muslim Roma and the Turkish minority, who together form the group behind this generic label, are not recognised as national minorities. Even worse (if possible) is the situation of the Macedonian minority – whose existence is totally negated:
”There is no ‘Macedonian’ minority in Greece” is the short, and untruthful, reaction of the Greek state to the report of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Thomas Hammarberg, after his latest visit to Greece in 2008.

For many years the country has been heavily criticed for its mistaken or non-existing minority policy, and not only by NGOs such as FUEN. International organisations and their monitoring mechanisms, judicial rulings, expert opinions etcetera are intentionally ignored or overlooked in Athens.

The subject of minorities in Greece is (as is often the case in minority issues) very much charged with emotions. This is aggravated by the widely spread xenophobia and hostility against foreigners in Greece.

“Greek civil society considers the presence of aliens as a danger. It has the tendency to relate ethnical questions with military affairs because of the fact that Greece repeatedly has been in war with the “mother country” of its (Muslim) minority, i.e. Turkey.” (Christoph Pan)

By contrast the minorities in Greece, which now make up about 0.5 percent of the total population and form the majority in no region (anymore), do not demand far-reaching autonomy nor show any separatist tendencies. They “just” want the recognition as a minority and the application of a system of modern minority protection. But Greece – often including the opinion of its general public – does not want to think about changing its minority policies.

How emotionally charged the subject is, became crystal clear at the European football championship for the minorities organised by FUEN, the EUROPEADA, that took place at the Sorbian minority in Germany lately. A team of the Turkish minority – the Western Thrace Turks – took part. This led to fierce hostile attacks in the media and on the internet. It included threats and intervention by Greek journalists (sic!) that the team would invoke an “international crisis” because of the participation of the Turkish minority at a reception of the Prime-Minister of the Free State of Saxony (by the way, the PM himself is part of the Sorbian minority).

This leads to the question why human rights – and part of these are these minority issues – are playing no role in the debate on the future of Greece? It is exclusively about a quick fix to the economic crisis and not about the compliance with fundamental rights – see Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union.

Of course in reality it cannot be (or can it?) that Mrs Merkel and her colleagues suggest in a friendly but persistent way to the right persons in Athens that next to reforming their tax system, they should pay some attention to the issue of minority protection. This being a “naive” assumption shows very clear that minority protection is in a difficult situation (in times of crisis) in Europe.

If you want to have an overview of the current problems of the minorities, you should read the report of Mr Hammarberg, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe. The report is diplomatic but also very descriptive.

The resolution submitted by ABTTF and the Western Thrace Minority University Graduates Association, and adopted at the FUEN Congress in Moscow on 19 May 2012, provides an overview about the current demands on the part of the Turkish minority (see below).

Last, but not least, the very complex history and many antagonisms connected to the issue of minorities in Greece should be mentioned. A good introduction is the article by Tilman Zülch in the “Pogrom”-magazine by the Society of Threatened Peoples, from which the last paragraph is quoted here:

“... every approach to the Greek minority problems requires a look in the direction of Turkey. All the Turkish governments disregarded the Treaty of Lausanne. In the 1950s and still in the 1970s there have been atrocious pogroms against the Greeks from Istanbul/Constantinople and from the islands of Imbros and Tendos. Since 1974, 80% of the inhabitants of North Cyprus have to live as refugees in the Greek southern part of the island. Even half of the Turkish Cypriots left North Cyprus, which is occupied by the Turkish military. Looking at all these facts together our demand for tolerance towards the minorities in Greece becomes all the more credible.”

Christoph Pan & Beate Sibylle Pfeil; “Minderheitenrechte in Europa. Handbuch der europäischen Volksgruppen” (in German)


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