CONFERENCE ON REFUGEES - 1998
Florina (Lerin) July 10, 1998
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From 1990 to 1995 we were witnesses to the drama in the former Yugoslavia, especially in Bosnia. We are very concerned that a similar situation may occur in Kosovo. With this in mind, as well as having our own personal experience, we know only too well that the victims are always innocent people. If they survive then they are cleansed from their birthplaces. Unfortunately, this Balkan tragedy has been repeating itself since the beginning of the century.
On Sunday, July 19, 1998, the RAINBOW party (Vinozhito) hosted a conference in the region of Florina, in northern Greece. The theme of the conference was: Ethnic Cleansing in the Balkans from the Beginning of the Century until Today - Refugees are Always the Victims. Suggestions on a Policy that will Change this Situation.
The conference took place 50 years after the exodus of the Greek and Macedonian children who fled Greece as political refugees during the Greek Civil War (1946-1949). Unfortunately thousands of those who are Macedonian still cannot return to Greece. Greek government policy prevents them from returning because they are of Macedonian origin. These people have been political refugees for 50 years.
In attendance at the conference were, among others:
- Panayote Elias Dimitras - spokesperson for Greek Helsinki Monitor
- Ibram Onsonoglu - representative of the Turkish minority in Greece
- Ilias Zafeiropoulos - representative of the OAKKE political party
- Stavre Kostovski - representative of the Macedonian Children-Refugees from Canada
- Pavle Voskopoulos - RAINBOW political party in Greece
The representatives of the Swedish Helsinki Committee, Minority Rights International and the Organization of Bosnians, were unable to attend and sent telegrams of greetings and good wishes
Mr. Kole Mangov - president of the organization "Dignity" in the Republic of Macedonia - was refused a visa by Greek authorities and was, therefore, unable to attend. Similarly, Mr. Risto Chachkirovski, president of the Macedonian Children-Refugees from Canada, was not permitted entry into Greece and was prevented from attending.
In attendance were over 150 people. This included journalists from the "French News Agency," the German newspaper, "Zeitung," the Greek daily, "Eleftherotypia," as well as journalists from local papers.
The discussions were not restricted to the issue of the discriminatory policies of the Greek government against the Macedonian minority, but also included a consideration of the European focus necessary for the Balkan states to overcome the obstacles of the past.
Prior to the start of the conference there was a power failure in the building and the local vicinity. It is not clear whether this was a coincidence or if it was a deliberate act. Fortunately, a back-up generator had been brought for such emergencies. The organizers were, therefore, able to successfully proceed with the conference.
The same morning as the conference, July 19, 1998, members of the RAINBOW party were present at the Greek - Macedonian border at the border crossing Nikki (Negochani) - Medjitlia. They were there to welcome back the former "Refugee Children" -- political refugees from the Greek Civil War. This group was en-route to a reunion event in Edessa (Voden) that same afternoon.
Members of RAINBOW were at the border along with representatives of Greek Helsinki Monitor - who were there as observers. For further information and specific details please refer to the Press Release of Greek Helsinki Monitor: Issues Related to the Macedonian Minority in Greece.
The first group of former Children Refugees (political refugees) arrived early in the day and there were no border crossing problems. RAINBOW was pleased to welcome these ethnic Macedonians back to Greece where they were born. It needs to be noted that there were more than one hundred uniformed policeman not to mention plain clothes or secret police in attendance at the border crossing.
At 12:00 PM that afternoon, some of the RAINBOW members left the border crossing and returned to the conference in Florina. However, several members of RAINBOW remained at the border along with the representatives of Greek Helsinki Monitor to continue their observation.
After 3:00 PM three bus loads of former Children Refugees arrived at the border crossing Nikki - Medjitlia. However only two bus loads were allowed entry into Greece. Many individuals were not permitted to cross the border and were turned back. See the press release of Greek Helsinki Monitor - above.
The border crossing procedure which began at about 3:00 PM lasted until about 5:00 PM to 5:30 PM. Those who were allowed entry into Greece continued to Edessa (Voden). In each of the two buses en-route to Edessa, RAINBOW had placed a representative to assist the visitors during their journey. In Edessa, waiting to greet the visitors, were the Reverend Nikodimos Tsarknias and Mr. Traianos Pasois.
As a precaution, members of RAINBOW accompanied the two buses in private cars. RAINBOW was concerned that their might be an incident as there were provocative flyers distributed by nationalist extremists the day before, on July 18, 1998. However, there were no incidents.
Upon conclusion of the reunion event in Edessa, the two buses with the facilitation of members of RAINBOW, arrived in Meliti (Ovcharani) to attend the annual celebrations of the festival of St. Elijah (Ilindenski Panagir). The former Children Refugees were very warmly received at the celebrations and enjoyed themselves immensely.
Celebrations were not restricted to Meliti (Ovcharani). In other communities, such as Palaistra (Boreshnitsa), Ano Kalliniki (Gorno Kalenik), there were also Macedonian songs and festivities. In these areas, in the past, the residents were afraid to openly declare themselves as ethnic Macedonians and to participate in these cultural events.
On the 26th and 27th of July celebrations were also held by ethnic Macedonians in the areas of Agios Panteleimon (Patele), and Ano Ydrousa (Gorno Kotori). On the 5th and 6th of August similar Macedonian cultural festivities took place in the village of Atrapos (Karpeshina).
It was nice to see that more and more younger people were participating in these cultural events and celebrating their Macedonian ethnic heritage.
Pictures from the Conference [pic 1] [pic 2] [pic 3]