The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has considered the combined sixteenth to nineteenth periodic reports of Greece on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Presenting the report, Maria Telalian, Legal Advisor, Head of the Section of Public International Law, Legal Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Greece, said that in 2005, the Greek Parliament had adopted a law on the implementation of the principle of equal treatment regardless of racial or ethnic origin, religious or other beliefs, disability, age or sexual orientation. This law laid down a general regulatory framework for combating discrimination in a wide range of fields and had designated or established bodies for protecting, promoting and monitoring compliance with the principle of non-discrimination. Also, during the last years, a series of measures had been adopted in favour of persons belonging to the Muslim minority in Thrace. On the claims that Greece did not recognize the existence of a national linguistic minority by the name of “Macedonian” she said that these were totally unsubstantiated and that these threatened to create potential tensions over existing identities in the region, as well as serious confusion over that name. Turning to the situation of Roma in Greece, she noted that the Greek Roma had been identified by the State as a vulnerable group, for which special measures and actions plans had been adopted.
In preliminary concluding observations, Jose Lindgren Alves, the Committee Expert who served as Rapporteur for the report of Greece, said that the reforms carried out by the Government, specifically for Roma, Muslims and migrants, were very positive. Most of the criticism of his colleagues had to do with the recognition of minorities, which, according to European law was linked with a lot of quotas and allotting slots for them in the Government. Taking the example of the United States he said that they did not use the word “minorities”, except for the indigenous people. For him, the main point was that there were no more homogenous people as there was no 100 per cent pure culture. “Metissage” (the cultural mixing of society) was a way out of the problems Greece was facing today with large communities living side-by-side.
Other Committee Experts raised questions and asked for further information on subjects pertaining to, among other things, whether children of Muslim migrants were envisaged as Greek citizens or would they remain forever foreign. In case they were accepted as citizens, were they considered part of the Muslim minority? What was the reason behind the fact that Greece had become a destination country of victims of human trafficking? What was the language spoken by Muslims in Greece? Was the Muslim minority recognition based on race or religion? Was the Roma group considered as an ethnic group? Other questions concerned the problem linked to the name of “Slavic Macedonians”, illegal migrants and the Greek Albanian community.
The delegation of Greece also included members of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of National Education and Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Justice.
The Committee will present its written observations and recommendations on the combined sixteenth to nineteenth periodic reports of Greece, which were presented in one document, at the end of its session, which concludes on 28 August 2009.
When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m. this afternoon, it is scheduled to take up the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Azerbaijan (CERD/C/AZE/6).
Report of Greece
The combined sixteenth to nineteenth report of Greece (CERD/C/GRC/19) states that the number of persons of Roma origin amounts to approximately 250,000 to 300,000 (out of a total population of around 11,100,000 persons), according to studies drawn up with a view to designing and implementing social actions and programmes for the Roma. Roma are not considered as a “minority”, but as a vulnerable social group. The Muslim minority in Thrace numbers around 100,000 persons and consists of three distinct groups, whose members are of Turkish, Pomak and Roma origin. In the context of minorities, references made by a very small number of non-governmental organizations to a so-called “Macedonian minority” in Greece do not correspond to existing realities. The fact that a small number of persons who live in Northern Greece use, in addition to the Greek language, Slavic oral idioms, does not indicate the existence of a national minority. Furthermore, the use of the term “Macedonian” to describe a so-called minority usurps the name and national and cultural identity of some two and a half million Greeks who identify themselves for many centuries as Macedonians (Makedones) in the regional and cultural context and can therefore not be accepted.
The situation of Roma in Greece poses a series of challenges to the Greek authorities and to the society in general. The integration of Roma into the society is a very complex, multi-faceted social problem, which all European countries with a Roma population face. Greek authorities are fully aware of the urgency of this problem and have repeatedly expressed, and shown in practice, their political will to find appropriate and effective solutions. As far as the issue of forced evictions of Roma is concerned, it is inaccurate to use the term eviction when the relevant administrative acts of evacuation and expulsion come in response to the unlawful occupancy of land and to the arbitrary and illegal settlement in tracts of land that are not owned by the occupants. The allegation that evictions deprive Roma of their right to adequate housing does not correspond to reality, since the majority of these cases concerns arbitrary constructions which do not fulfil the requirements for decent and healthy living conditions. Regarding political participation of Roma, it can be noted that Roma participated in administrative bodies and procedures and in the political life of the country. A political party was created by Greek Roma and persons of Roma origin have been also elected to municipal bodies in several municipalities of Greece. Members of the Muslim minority also participated in politics, as they had been elected in almost all successive elections since 1927 within the main governing and opposition political parties.
Presentation of Report
FRANCISCOS VERROS, Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that it was an honour and privilege to appear before the Committee. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was a core instrument at the universal level against all forms of racism and racial discrimination, including new ones. Greece also attached great importance to the recommendations issued by the Committee.
MARIA TELALIAN, Legal Advisor, Head of the Section of Public International Law, Legal Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that their report provided information on recent legislation, action plans and initiatives that were take in the fight against all forms of racial discrimination. Greece’s periodic report had been drafted by the Legal Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in close cooperation with a number of other ministries. The involvement of a large number of ministries showed an increased awareness of the importance and significance of the Convention. They had also included in the report useful comments and inputs by the National Commission on Human Rights, in which six major non-governmental organizations participated.
Ms. Telalian acknowledged that her country faced a number of important challenges. Additional efforts and further improvements in the implementation of the relevant legislation were required to effectively combat discrimination and exclusion.
In 2005, the Greek Parliament had adopted a law on the implementation of the principle of equal treatment regardless of racial or ethnic origin, religious or other beliefs, disability, age or sexual orientation. This law laid down a general regulatory framework for combating discrimination in a wide range of fields and had designated or established bodies for protecting, promoting and monitoring compliance with the principle of non-discrimination. The principle of equal treatment included therein applied to all persons, said Ms. Telalian.
Ms. Telalian said that a chapter of this law established or designed competent bodies for the promotion of equal treatment. The Greek Ombudsman examined complaints for alleged violations of the principle of equal treatment by services of the public sectors. The Labour Inspectorate dealt with allegations of discrimination in the fields of occupation and employment. And the Committee for Equal Treatment, a body under the Minister of Justice, also took up specific cases. Greece had not opted for the system of a unique specialized independent body.
Until now, the Labour Inspectorate and the Committee for Equal Treatment had dealt with a very limited number of complaints. The Ombudsman had investigated a more substantial number of cases, most of them related to issues affecting persons of Roma origin. The law had not developed its full potential yet and they were aware that more needed to be done in order to increase the level of knowledge and awareness of victims, potential victims and civil society actors, said Ms. Telalian.
During the last years, a series of measures had been adopted in favour of persons belonging to the Muslim minority in Thrace, said Ms. Telalian. A 2008 law had introduced a quota of 0.5 per cent for the recruitment of members of the Muslim minority in the public sector. Courses in Turkish language had been included in public school curricula in Thrace since 2006, as an optional foreign language. Since 2007, the Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs had provided for the recruitment of 240 imams.
With respect to the allegations that there were limitations on the Muslim minority in Thrace to have their “Turkish” identity recognized, Ms. Telalian said that these allegations completely ignored the fact that the Muslim minority in Thrace consisted of three distinct groups, whose members were of Turkish, Pomak or Roma origin. Each of these groups had its own distinct spoken language and cultural traditions and heritage, which were fully respected by the Greek State. Any attempt of the Turkish-origin component of this minority to impose its cultural characteristics and traditions on the Pomaks and Roma components was not in conformity with the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 regulating the status of the Muslim minority in Thrace.
The policies that were implemented by the Greek State aimed at guaranteeing the smooth integration of the Muslim minority of Thrace in the social fabric of the country, while safeguarding its cultural and religious identity and preventing exploitation of its problems by radical circles which wished to keep the minority marginalized and with an inward-looking mentality, said Ms. Telalian. As to the existence of minorities other than the Muslim minority in Thrace, she reiterated that any person who claimed to belong to a distinct ethnic or cultural group was free to do so, with no negative consequences. However, such subjective claims or perceptions, which were not based on objective facts or criteria, were not sufficient by themselves to impose on the State an obligation to officially recognize a group as a minority.
In this connection, claims that Greece did not recognize the existence of a national linguistic minority by the name of “Macedonian” were totally unsubstantiated and threatened to create potential tensions over existing identities in the region, as well as serious confusion over that name, as it was also used by hundreds of thousands Greek Macedonians living in the northern part of the country, said Ms. Telalian. Also, the non-recognition of numerically small groups as a national minority did not imply discriminatory treatment.
Turning to the situation of Roma in Greece, Ms. Telalian said that Greek Roma formed an integral part of their society and they had expressed the wish to be considered and treated as Greek citizens, and not only as persons of Roma origin. The Greek Roma had been identified by the State as a vulnerable group, for which special measures and actions plans had been adopted. The housing loans programme for Greek Roma consisted of granting 9,000 housing loans of 60,000 € each to Greek Roma living in inadequate housing conditions.
In the field of education, a considerable number of pupils had benefited from a programme for the education of Greek-Roma pupils, with the aim of fostering Roma students’ integration in the education system and reducing drop-out rates. Further, a detailed report containing a set of recommendations on the situation of Roma had been issued in January 2009 by the National Commission for Human Rights, said Ms. Telalian.
Turning to the prohibition of hate speech, Ms. Telalian said that the Greek Parliament had adopted in 1979 a law which punished incitement to acts or activities that might result in acts of discrimination, hated or violence against individuals or groups of individuals on the sole grounds of the latter’s racial or national origin or religion. Until recently this law had had a very limited application, due to the reluctance of the courts to restrict free speech and also due to the fact that Greece had never experienced an organized extremist movement, nor societal tensions among different groups. As, since the 1990s, their society had become more diverse, this had raised the importance of the criminal anti-racist legislation as a means of preserving social peace. Another important development was the recent adoption of a provision, according to which the commission of an offence motivated by ethnic, racial or religious hatred constituted an aggravating circumstance.
Concerning police accountability, Ms. Telalian said that the report included statistical data on allegations of ill-treatment by police officers. Greece fully recognized the importance of ensuring the accountability of law enforcement personnel, with no exception. Any complaints of ill treatment were thoroughly investigated. Continuous training of police personnel aiming at raising the awareness of police officers on matters related to the protection of human rights of vulnerable societal groups had been made a top priority.
In the field of education, Ms. Telalian said that the Greek authorities had recognized the importance of allowing and assisting persons of different backgrounds to preserve and to develop all aspects of their identity, while at the same time promoting harmonious integration into the host society. Elements of inter-cultural education had also been introduced as teaching methods at schools.
Ms. Telalian also said that training in human rights of public officials was of primary importance for the prevention of racial discrimination. Relevant teacher training programmes on dealing with a more and more diverse classrooms had been implemented.
Turning to the rights of migrants, Ms. Telalian said that the legal framework regulating immigration had been amended in 2005 to overcome administrative difficulties. The main priority of the competent authorities was the efficient, rationalized and non-bureaucratic handling of migration flows. Measures had been adopted in order to simplify the existing procedures to facilitate family reunifications and to protect minors and other vulnerable groups, including victims of trafficking. All persons legally residing in Greece enjoyed the same social security rights as Greek nationals.
On illegal migration, Ms. Telalian said that it posed a number of important challenges to her country. It was estimated that some 150,000 foreigners had entered Greece illegally in 2008 alone, aiming mainly to go to other European countries. The situation was even more acute in the Eastern Aegan Islands, where the existing reception facilities were not sufficient to deal with the large number of irregular migrants. This problem could only be solved through the adoption of concrete measures on genuine and effective solidarity and fair-burden-sharing between European Union Member States. Most of the problems however emanated from the non-implementation of already existing readmission bilateral agreements with third countries.
Greece further recognized that the condition of reception or detention to those foreign nationals who entered the country irregularly should fully respect human rights and human dignity, said Ms. Telalian. The new planned hosting centers for irregular migrants would comply with modern human rights standards. The goal of the new asylum procedure was to decentralize the system in order to make in more efficient and fair, with full judicial protections. It would also accelerate the process.
Oral Questions Raised by the Rapporteur and Experts
JOSE LINDGREN ALVES, the Committee Expert serving as country Rapporteur for the report of Greece, said he could not agree more with Greece’s answer to his question as to why Greece had not ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of the Council of Europe, while it had signed it in 1997. In its response Greece had said that the diversity of legal and socio-political circumstances and historic traditions prevailing in each country called for tailor-made rather than “one size fits all” conceptual approaches and practical solutions. If this response held true for Europe, it held truer for the rest of the world.
Mr. Lindgren Alves noted that the Muslims of Thrace, a group of about 100,000 people comprised of Greek citizens of Turkish, Pomak and Roma origin, was considered minority, while the Greek Roma, estimated to a total number of around 300,000 persons were not considered a minority but a “vulnerable group”. Besides these two groups, the report disaggregated statistics only for foreigners, the largest group of whom were Albanians.
Mr. Lindgren Alves said that he did not think that it was necessary to officially recognize a “minority”, a word not even used in the Convention, in order to protect the universal human rights of members of vulnerable groups or any ethnic minority. It was not even necessary for the adoption of special measures in their favour, as shown by the Greek case.
With regard to the only recognized minority, the Muslim minority of Thrace, Mr. Lindgren Alves was particularly impressed by the permission to use Sharia law in every judicial case that did not go against the general laws of the Hellenic Republic.
Turning to the children of Muslim immigrants from different regions, Mr. Lindgren Alves wondered whether they were envisaged as Greek citizens or would they remain forever foreign. How did a child of foreign parents accede to the citizenship of a country with a “jus sanguinis” system? In case they were accepted as citizens, were they still considered part of the Muslim minority?
Turning to the question of those who insisted on a Slavic Macedonian minority, Mr. Lindgren Alves said that the most important thing was to assure their human rights in general, including their right to use their dialect or mother language, as any other group. The non-recognition of a group as a minority did not deprive such a group from the enjoyment of its rights. He had been interested to learn that even a political party to foster the claims of Slavic Macedonians had been accepted and had been freely participating in parliamentary elections.
Mr. Lindgren Alves noted that Greece had become a destination country of victims of human trafficking. Did it mean a destination for illegal migrants in search of work or of potential prostitutes for the tourist industry? What was the reason behind this?
Mr. Lindgren Alves had also been glad to learn that Greece did not have an organized Neo-Nazi movement but he wondered whether Greece had banned any organization or group, including Neo-Nazi groups, as they seemed to be very active and growing in Europe. Anti-Semitism and other manifestations that reminded them of the Nazi regime seemed to be rather frequent in unofficial Greek publications and declarations of public personalities. He hoped that the Government would keep the same firm stance to counter these trends.
Other Committee Experts raised questions and asked for further information on subjects pertaining to, among other things, the positive development of the introduction of a minimum quota of 0.5 per cent for Muslim students in university. On the housing loans of 60,000 €, an Expert was astonished by this amount and wondered if this was not a typo. What about the other communities, did they also enjoy housing loans?
Another Committee Expert said that one should pay attention when generalizing Turks and Muslims as there were Turks which were non-Muslim and not all Muslims were Turks. As Muslims had many languages, what was the language of the Muslims in Greece? When the report talked about Muslims, was it talking about race or religion? Further, what was the religion of Roma people?
Was the Lausanne Treaty only applied to religious communities? Was the Roma group considered as an ethnic group? Was the Roma a vulnerable group because of its ethnicity?
One Expert noted that there was a group speaking a Slavic language in the country, they did not need to be considered as Macedonians, if this led to confusion over the name, but they were still using a Slavic language, which they had not invented and they should have the right to use it. Also political parties should not be divided by ethnicities as this could undermine the unity of the State. Further, for him it was more important to know whether a minority had the right to use its language, not if it had the right to form a political party.
Why did the Greek State appoint the Mufti? He was a spiritual leader and not a teacher, such as the Imams, and the Muslims were supposed to elect their own leader. That might go against the fact that Greece was a secular State.
One Expert asked how the police was dealing with unaccompanied migrant children. He noted that there were several reports available on police mistreatment of arrested migrant children in Greece coming from Afghanistan.
One Expert said that the report noted that there were no organized Neo-Nazi groups in Greece and wondered whether there were any unorganized Neo-Nazi groups in Greece. Further, what differentiated an organized from an unorganized group?
Another Committee Expert wondered whether there was an Albanian ethnic group in Greece. All countries bordering Greece recognized up to ten minorities of different sizes, while Greece only recognized one. One could not stay in the year of 1923, the year of the Treaty of Lausanne.
How did the delegation explain the fact that there had been a very low number of prosecutions for discrimination? The Expert noted that a low number was not necessarily a positive sign. What was the contribution of the National Human Rights Commission in the fight against discrimination?
Response by Delegation to Oral Questions
Addressing concerns expressed by Committee Experts, the delegation said that, relating to the special anti-racist law of 1979 and the reason why the Greek Courts were very reluctant to restrict freedom of expression, the delegation said that this was linked with Greek history and the events that had taken place during the Greek military junta regime era between 1967 and 1974. During that period there had been severe censorship and bans on circulation of books, on the media and publishers. This past had led to certain sensitivities relating to the freedom of the media.
Concerning racism in the Greek society, the delegation said that up until recently, the Greek society had been relatively homogeneous and racism was thus almost nonexistent. It was only lately that the situation had started to change with the arrival of other communities. Greek society was certainly not immune to right wing ideologies and, like every country, it had to remain vigilant. However, the latest racist incidents in Greece were not the reflection of an organized racist movement. Further, the Holocaust was taught in public schools to promote respect and tolerance of others.
Concerning the experience with the 2005 law devoted to the protection of victims of discrimination, which had established, among others, the Office of the Greek Ombudsman, the delegation said that the law had not attained its full potential yet. The complaints received by the Ombudsman had been mainly confined to the public sector and they would need to make new efforts to inform the public more broadly.
Turning to the Muslim community in Thrace, the delegation said that the religious character of that community was clearly stated in the Lausanne Treaty. Greece did not deny that this community had different distinct sub-group in terms of race. Greece knew that there were three different groups in this community: Turkish, Roma and Pomaks.
The Lausanne Bilateral Convention of 1923 on the exchange of population between Greece and Turkey did not mention a “Turkish” minority in Thrace but a “Muslim” one. This showed that even back then, the criteria of identification had been the religion.
All three sub-groups of the Muslim community of Thrace were free to express their culture and identity and to speak their language freely. The Lausanne Treaty only spoke about the Turkish language but the Pomaks had a distinct language. Efforts were undergoing to facilitate the teaching of this language. However, others within the Muslim community did not want the Pomaks to do so.
Turning to self-identification, the delegation said that this was not an abstract principle. Article 3 of the European Union’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities clearly stated what was meant by self-identification. It was when an individual had chosen to be treated as a member of a certain community. But certain objective and subjective criteria had to exist in order to exercise this right of self determination. In the case of the Muslims in Thrace it was language, religion and culture and not all of this community could be recognized as only a Turkish minority, as this was not the case.
The delegation noted that it was not the Greek Government, who tried to impose an identity, but it was the majority element of the minority itself who imposed their own identity; this was a healthier process and one could not talk about an “external designation”.
On the question of the appointment of Muftis, the delegation said that it was true that they were the religious and spiritual leaders of the Muslim minority and that the Greek Government appointed them. But the Muftis were more than that and were also performing other functions, such as marriage, divorce and judicial functions. This was the reason why the Greek State appointed them. The appointment of Muftis by the Greek State was done in a very transparent manner and under the inspection of eminent Muslim personalities. It was not done arbitrarily.
However, some circles in the minority had elected their own Muftis by themselves, in violation of Greek law. This election had taken place among very few members of the community and women had not been allowed to participate in the process. Thus there were now illegally and legally elected Muftis. This had led to a certain tensions in this part of the country and the Greek authorities were carefully considering how to get out of this situation, the delegation said.
Tuning to the ruling of European Courts, which had found that Greece was in violation of religious freedom, the delegation said that this was not linked to the appointment of Muftis but the prosecution and the sentencing to imprisonment of legally elected Muftis who had signed and filed messages on behalf of illegally elected Muftis.
The delegation said that the Muftis were also implementing Sharia law. The choice between Sharia law or Greek civil law was freely made by the members of the Muslim community. In case they chose the Mufti, the application of Sharia law was only done in the extent provided by Greek law and as long as it was not contrary to it. Practices such as polygamy were thus not allowed.
On the so-called Slavic “Macedonians” the delegation said that this was not a case of self identification as this group did not base its identification on objective criteria. The “Slavic” qualifier was not used in this case. The only qualifier used by this community was the “Macedonian” one. The problem was that the “Macedonian” term was already used by thousands of people in Greece. Up until recently, this group of “Slavic Macedonians” had been completely unknown, not only to Greece but to the whole Balkan region.
The delegation said that the “Slavic Macedonians” were however not prevented from speaking their oral idiom or from stating that they were part of a certain group. The fact that the Greek State had not officially recognised them did not mean that this community was not fully enjoying its rights and that its members were not fully respected by the Greek State.
The delegation underscored that there was a dignity in the name of the Greek Macedonians and said that Greece had not gotten any answer yet on why the State should not respect the cultural and historical heritage of the Greek Macedonians. It had nothing to do with the denial of the existence of a minority group but the denial of a name that was already used since a long time.
Turning to the question on whether the children of Muslim immigrants were treated as foreigners, or as members of the Muslim minority, the delegation said that they were treated as foreigners. Turning to the Roma children, the delegation said that in the 2008-2009 school year, some 11,000 Roma children had been registered in primary education and that there had been around 1,600 dropouts.
The Roma language was very difficult and it was hard to produce educational material in this language. Thus the Government would try to have mediators escorting Roma children to kindergartens and primary education schools who would translate the educational procedure.
Turning to immigration, the delegation said that several new reception centers were planned. A centre specially designed for minors was also planned where special education would be provided to them, as well as playgrounds and library and education rooms. An additional measure for social integration of legal immigrants living in the country was also planned.
A modern European State had to manage the problem of illegal immigrants and illegal entry in a new fashion, the delegation said. Some 146,000 migrants had come illegally to the country last year and 11,000 of them had been minors, out of which 1,000 had been girls. Unaccompanied minors were treated with particular sensitivity.
Unaccompanied minors who had applied for asylum continued to be under the protection of the State and the authorities ensured that their need of housing was ensured to them by finding any relatives in the country or by using facilities for minors to protect them from trafficking or any kind of exploitation. The personal interest of every minor was taken into account. When detained in detention centres, minors were kept separately from other detainees until the conclusion of the judicial identification.
Concerning the accusations against police officers of mistreatment of illegal immigrant children, the delegation said that these cases were being thoroughly investigated, but that any delay in the investigation created the impression that the State was covering up for the police officers. These delays had to do with the investigation. Any illegal, improper or abnormal behaviour of the police would be investigated. In the cases mentioned by the Experts, there had been no xenophobic or racist background to the acts committed by the police officers.
Turning to the Albanians residing in Greece, the delegation said that these Albanians were not considered as part of a minority but that they were migrant workers and they enjoyed all their rights.
While neighbouring countries had recognised dozens of minorities, as noted by the Experts, the delegation said that minorities had nothing to do with their numbers, but with actual criteria. There were no other such groups in Greece. Also, the Albanians were not asking for their recognition as a minority; they were completely integrated in the fabric of the country. There was no question in identifying them as a minority in the technical or legal term.
On the recognition of the children of foreigners, the delegation said that those who wished to become Greek had to go through a naturalisation process. Religion was not a prerequisite or an impediment in acquiring the Greek nationality. Children born in Greece who had stayed with their family for a long time in Greece and who had attended primary school had the possibility to apply for a long-term resident status.
Turning to places of worship for Muslims outside of Thrace, the delegation said that a law had provided for the construction of a Mosque on state funds in Athens. Its construction was still under way. The State was fully aware of the need to build these kinds of places for the Muslims who came to Greece, such as migrant workers. On another point that had been raised, concerning Muslim cemeteries, the delegation said that the State fully recognised the need for Muslims to have their own cemeteries. Currently Muslims had to go to Thrace or outside the country to bury their dead. The Greek Orthodox Church had also donated land to the Muslim community to build a cemetery, but there were still technical issues currently preventing the construction of this cemetery, but the issues preventing it should soon be dealt with.
Further Oral Questions Posed by Experts
Jose Lindgren Alves, the Committee Expert serving as country Rapporteur for the report of Greece, said that, on the question of the so-called “Slavic Macedonians”, he did not know that they were denying their Slavic origin, even though he had been an ambassador to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. He wondered if it would change something if this community would recognise its “Slavic Macedonian” culture.
Replies by the Delegation
Responding to this question, the delegation said that they were not in a position to respond in a hypothetical sense. Very recently, Greece had said that the “Slavic Macedonians” should have used a qualifier to clarify their origin. Why were they constantly using the name Macedonian, which already identified 2.5 million Macedonians in the cultural sense? Even the former leaders of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia had admitted that they were of Slavic origin. This question had only come up in the last years. Everyone in the Balkans knew very well what minorities there were in the Balkans, as the question of minorities in the Balkans had created so many tensions in the region. This was the very first time that they had heard of a “Macedonian” group in this region. It was a question of dignity of the name “Macedonian”.
This difference had created a tension with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and even the United Nations Security Council had said that there was a difference in the name. This situation had to be solved. In Security Council resolution 1845, the Council had asked the two parties to settle the question under the auspices of the United Nations. This clearly showed that what was in a name had several historical and political implications. It was not a question of a specific denial but the risk of creating tension among identities in the Balkans.
Further Questions by Experts
An Expert said that other countries had established a Roma alphabet in Cyrillic and thought that Greek experts could also do so. What was the number of Greek citizens of Albanian origin? Where they able to study in their own language in Greek schools? If a Pomak or Turkish Muslim moved from Thrace to Athens could he still study his or her language? One Expert also noted that invoking the simple fear of courts to impede on the freedom of expression as the only reason why there had been no more cases against racist and xenophobic acts was a bit weak.
On the appointment of Muftis, one Expert wondered why a Christian minister should appoint a Muslim religious leader. On unaccompanied minors, an Expert wondered whether the police was also being sensitized and trained in knowing what it should do and how it should deal with minors? It was not only sufficient to have the rules written in a book.
Preliminary Concluding Observations
In preliminary concluding observations, Jose Lindgren Alves, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of Greece, thanked the Greek delegation for their serious replies. His essential conclusion about the whole discussion was positive. He thought that the replies given today had been very thorough and frank and almost 100 per cent satisfactory. He could however not ensure that his colleagues had no doubts and that the Committee would not issue its recommendation in a different way.
Mr. Lindgren Alves said that the reforms carried out by the Government, specifically for Roma, Muslims and migrants were very positive. Most of the criticism of his colleagues had to do with the recognition of minorities, which, according to European law was linked with a lot of quotas and allotting slots for them in the Government. If this was not the reason why his colleagues had raised these questions, he did not know why they were spending so much time in discussing names. Taking the example of the United States he said that they did not use the word “minorities”, except for the indigenous people. In his country, Brazil, they used the name “minority” for homosexuals and for disabled people.
For him, the main point was that there were no more homogenous people as there was no 100 per cent pure culture. “Metissage” (the cultural mixing of society) was a way out of the problems Greece was facing today with large communities living side-by-side, said Mr. Lindgren Alves.
For use of the information media; not an official record
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has considered the combined sixteenth to nineteenth periodic reports of Greece on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.