Greece: Euroconviction on Macedonians and state press bias

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Date: Thu, 16 Jul 1998 18:28:38 +0300 (EET DST)
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Subject: Greece: Euroconviction on Macedonians and state press bias

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Original sender: Greek Helsinki Monitor <>

Greece: Euroconviction on Macedonians and state press bias

The cooperating organizations Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority
Rights Group - Greece point out that the unanimous conviction of
Greece by the European Court of Human Rights, on 10/7/1998, is the
tenth conviction of the country for violation of the rights of
minorities which live in it. Greece was convicted for the violation of
the freedom of association (Article 11 of the relevant European
Convention), because the Greek courts did not allow in 1990 the
establishment of the "Home of Macedonian Civilization" (as translated
in English by the European Court).
Between 1993 and mid-1997, Greece was convicted seven times for
violations of the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses: the cases concerned
either convictions by Greek courts for proselytism (1 case), for
refusal of their clergy to do military service (3), for the opening of
a house of worship (1); or expulsions of pupils from school for
refusal to participate in parades (1). In another case, Greece settled
and allowed a house of worship to operate to avoid another conviction.
In the course of the last seven months, Greece was convicted for the
violation of the rights of three other minorities. In December 1997,
for the refusal to recognize the legal personality of the Catholic
Church of Chanea (Crete); in February 1998, for the conviction of
Protestant military personnel for proselytism of civilians; and now,
in July 1998, for the establishment of an association by ethnic
Macedonians. There has been no conviction yet only for the Turkish
minority, as a case of the former deputy Sadik was rejected, despite
the positive recommendation of the Commission, for strictly procedural
reasons (non-exhaustion of legal remedies in Greece).

The most important argument of the recent Court decision is its
position towards the Greek courts’ and state’s view that the Home of
Macedonian Civilization was not allowed to be established as its
founding members did not aim simply at a cultural activity but at
supporting the view that there is a Macedonian minority. The latter is
known to be considered "non-existent" in Greece, an argument
documented by the Greek courts and state with evidence full of
"scholarly" quotes even from texts dating from the Nazi occupation
period: "a guide to Salonika written by German historians and
archaeologists during the last world war states that…" In countering
this argument, the European Court mentions the binding character for
Greece of the OSCE documents which the country has signed and which
have usually been considered merely declaratory and without any legal
value. The Court states that the aims of the Home are "clear and
legitimate" and adds:
"Even supposing that the founders of an association like the one in
the instant case assert a minority consciousness, the Document of the
Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the
CSCE (Section IV) of 29 June 1990 and the Charter of Paris for a New
Europe of 21 November 1990 – which Greece has signed – allow them to
form associations to protect their cultural and spiritual heritage.".

We consider as an important development that, the day after the
publication of the Court decision, six newspapers (Avghi, Ethnos,
Eleftherotypia, Exousia, Kathimerini, and Rizospastis) covered the
news in a correct journalistic way, something that happens for the
first time with respect to decisions of such "sensitivity," that
usually go deliberately unnoticed. They were certainly helped in that
by the news items of the two state agencies, the Athens News Agency
and the Macedonian News Agency (MPA), which reported immediately and
accurately the related news item of the French News Agency of 10/7. It
was therefore surprising to see that the MPA gave the impression to
have "regretted" the first objective coverage: on 11/7 it released two
lengthy and in essence rebutting items. In them, Greece’s conviction
was completely downplayed (in the first) or totally omitted (in the
second), as the purpose of these items was to show, as the title of
the third and last item showed, that:
"European Court Of Justice: The Defense Of The Greek Character Of
Macedonia Is Greece's Legal Right."

In the text of that news item, that title is explained by way of
distortions of, and by turning upside down the text of the court
decision (even with the use of quotation marks to make the forgery
more convincing). The item also distorts the meaning of the reference
to the OSCE decision while it presents mainly the views of the Greek
courts (which are naturally stated in the text of the European Court),
but in ways that could give the impression that they are adopted by
the latter. Finally, we need to point out that MPA chose to include in
its 11/7 English language bulletin only the distorted news item on
"Greece’s vindication" confirming the impression that the first,
objective coverage of the matter was "outside editorial policy."

We therefore call upon the Director of MPA and the supervising
Minister for the Press Mr. Reppas, who have both shown in the past
correct "sensitivity" on such matters, to make their views public on
this issue, which does not happen for the first time, in a way that
will exclude its repetition in the future. Thus, they will avoid the
international negative exposure of Greece as a country where the state
media can use principles of "journalism" which can be found only in
authoritarian regimes.

The complete text of the Court’s decision can be found at its Internet
Web Posted: 16:35 GMT+2
Strasbourg, 11/07/1998 (MPA) It is the legal right of the Greek
authorities and the country's courts to face every attempt aimed at
disputing the Greek character of Macedonia and its residents as well
as, its territorial integrity, according to a European Court of
Justice ruling that was issued after examining an appeal that
challenged the Greek court decisions based on which, the establishment
of an association in Florina, north-western Greece had been rejected
because it indirectly raised the Macedonian issue.

The refusal of the Greek courts to recognize the association named
"The House of the Macedonian Culture" in Florina was based on law and
sought legal purposes, mentions the European Court of Justice, even
though it found that in the specific case the restriction of the
freedom to associate was not necessary. The court observed that if the
association's founders goals were illegal they could be faced by
dissolving the association in question based on article 105 of the
Civil Code.

The European Court of Justice in Strasbourg examined the case after an
appeal by four people, who adduced their alleged "Macedonian national
origin" and "Macedonian national conscience".

The European Court of Justice recognized as legitimate the Greek
courts right to face what they judged to be an intention to challenge
the Greek identity of Macedonia and its people as well as, the
country's territorial integrity, taking under consideration the
situation existing at that period of time (1990) in the Balkans and
the political differences between Greece and FYROM. In the decision is
made a specific reference to Greece's complaints over the threat that
FYROM's hostile propaganda was posing at the time of the events, its
attempt to claim that the name Macedonia was Slav and the inclusion of
certain articles in FYROM's Constitution toward that purpose as well
as, the systematic promotion of the nationalist idea of a "united
Greece condemned for discriminating against Macedonian minority
Fri 10 Jul 98 - 15:55 GMT
STRASBOURG, July 10 (AFP) - The European Court of Human Rights on
Friday condemned Greece for having banned an association called "The
House of Macedonian Civilisation."
Four people brought the case on behalf of a group of about 50 people
who said they were of ethnic Macedonian origin and had a "Macedonian
national consciousness."
The Court ruled that Greece had violated the applicants' right to
liberty of association. The plaintiffs come from Florina, northern
Greece, near the border with Macedonia. It awarded the applicants a
total of 40,000 drachmas (13,300 dollars) in costs. They had been
claiming nearly 100 million drachmas in damages and costs.

The Greek administration and court had refused to register the
association, ruling that its objective was to create a Macedonian Slav
state with access to the Aegean Sea.

The appeal court in Thessalonica based its decision on the belief that
the group wanted to challenge the Greek identity of the northern Greek
region of Macedonia, challenging the country's territorial integrity.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Greece was wrong to ban
the association, since it was not without means to pursue its leaders
if the activities did indeed prove to be dangerous.

Since Macedonia's independence from Belgrade in 1991, Athens has
disputed its right to use that name, saying it implies that the Skopje
government has territorial designs on the northern Greek province of

It took until March this year for a Greek government spokesman to
refer to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) as
"Macedonia of Skopje".
Greek Helsinki Monitor &
Minority Rights Group - Greece
P.O. Box 51393
GR-14510 Kifisia
Tel. +30-1-620.01.20
Fax +30-1-807.57.67

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