Forum of NGOs in Athens, November 21-22, 1998
The forum, which was created three years ago and is based in Athens, was entitled All Different - All the Same. There were 53 non-governmental organizations participating, including the youth organizations of political parties, representatives of foreign workers who live in Athens, organizations for the protection of human rights, the rights of women, the rights of homosexuals, etc.
The forum was supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in connection with the Youth Secretariat. All this took place within a European framework which is also applied in the other member countries of the European Union. Its purpose is to cause reflection among European youth in regard to human rights issues. The main coordinating body associated with this forum is in Brussels in the institute of the European Union.
Three years ago representatives of the Macedonian and Turkish national minorities in Greece went to Athens to request membership in this forum. Those requests were denied. The objection at that time was based on the use of the terms Macedonian and Turkish in regard to the applying organizations.
This year on November 21 and 22 there was a General Meeting of the forum. Applications for membership were again going to be considered. RAINBOW'S representatives at this forum were Ms Mariana Bekiari and Mr. Kostas Tasopoulos.
**It is very important to mention that at this forum a declaration was made by the membership in support of the four members of the RAINBOW party who had been brought to trial by Greek authorities for use of their mother tongue. The members of RAINBOW are deeply grateful to the participants of this forum for this very positive affirmation.
At this General Meeting RAINBOW'S representatives publicly voiced their request for membership, which had already been done in writing prior to the meeting. The Presidency of the forum stated that the youth section of the RAINBOW party would be admitted as a member in six months and not at present since the request for membership by RAINBOW had not been received in time. Therefore the question of membership for RAINBOW and other applicants would be concluded at the next meeting. A motion was made whereby the youth section of RAINBOW would be allowed to participate in the Forum with all the privileges of full members and that full membership would formally be granted at the next meeting in six months.
The first to speak were representatives from the youth sections of the political parties Political Spring and New Democracy. They immediately brought forward a motion to delay the announcement from the forum regarding its support to the individuals charged in the RAINBOW trial.
After the statements made by the representatives of these two political youth groups Mr. Kostas Tasopoulos a member of RAINBOW, addressed those present at the forum. He stated,
"I am one of the four members of the RAINBOW party that was charged for using my mother tongue. I would like to thank all of the fair-minded people in Greece from the bottom of my heart for their support during this trial.
In order for democracy in our country to be strengthened more and more of us must openly declare our intolerance toward nationalism and racism. We, as members of RAINBOW, have stated that we are loyal citizens of this country because we love it as others do, just as the youth from the New Democracy do. But, we want Greece to be democratic and recognize the rights of all of its citizens. We participate and want Greece to be a multicultural state where Macedonians, Turks, Romi and all the other national and cultural minorities can freely express themselves.
The members of RAINBOW believe that we have passed the exams. From the moment our organization was formed we have acted without fear or prejudice and exposed ourselves to the hostility in Greek society. It must be clear to all that each of us will be judged against our own conduct."
Alternate Foreign Minster
of Greece, Yiorgos Papandreou
The second segment of the meeting was attended by such distinguished guests as Mr. George Papandreou, the Alternate Foreign Minister, Mr. Nikolaos Sfikakis, Secretary General of the Youth Secretariat, and Madame Mitrosili, Assistant Public Defender, who acts as an ombudsman between the interests of the public and the state. After the presentations of these guests an opportunity was given to the attendees to ask questions.
Mariana Bekiari, of RAINBOW, put the following two questions before Mr. Papandreou.
- What does the Greek government intend to do to resolve the problem of the Macedonian political refugees who left Greece more than 40 years ago and still cannot return to their places of birth?
- Will Greece end its practice of removing the citizenship from members of the Macedonian national minority through the use of the highly discriminatory Article 20 -- as was done in the case of Mr. Georgios Misalis from Meliti (Ovchareni)?
Mr. Papandreou replied with the following words:
"The political refugees are still suffering as a result of the Greek Civil War. This problem is not a simple one for the Greek government. Thousands of Greek citizens left Greece with the intention of saving their lives and moved to former socialist countries. Greek society still cannot overcome this problem. The personal property of these people now belongs to others and as you might understand this problem cannot be resolved in one moment. However, the situation does proceed in a positive manner especially with the Interim Accord between the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia and Greece. Some of these people are able to visit Greece if their travel documents are correct and they declare their birthplaces in Greek."
In his comments Mr. Papandreou referred to these people as "Slavomacedonians," "Slavophones" and "people with a Slavonic heritage." Mr. Papandreou mentioned that, as an example, during the activities of the political refugees this past summer five busloads were allowed to visit Greece.
Ms Bekiari interjected and mentioned that regarding the nomenclature of the toponyms and with regard to the Greek political refugees Mr. Papandreou was not completely correct.
Firstly, there are political refugees who are forbidden from entering Greece despite the fact that their travel documents are in order and their use of Greek toponomy to designate their place of birth, for example, "Florina" instead of "Lerin."
Secondly, many refugees are still prevented from entering Greece to visit their birthplaces. In fact during the activities last year instead of the five busloads being allowed entry into Greece, only two buses were permitted and even then they were half-empty. She asked Mr. Papandreou how it was that Greece could be so harmed by people who were now in their 80s?
In the third segment of the meeting the representatives of the youth organizations of New Democracy and Political Spring left the meeting because their application to delay the announcement of support for those charged in the RAINBOW trial had not been accepted by the other members. This latest intervention from these two groups had the effect of galvanizing the forum against their position.
Mr. Tasopoulos of RAINBOW declared to the youth of Political Spring and New Democracy,
"that just as there exist Greeks in Turkey, and just as there are Greeks in Albania, so too there exist Macedonians and Turks in Greece."
Finally, we wish to state that this event was another opportunity for RAINBOW to highlight the difficulties faced by the Macedonian national minority in Greece. It was helpful that this could be done in a forum where there were so many influential and progressively minded people.
RAINBOW considers this meeting to be a positive step toward acknowledging the concerns of the national minorities. It was indicative of the progress made thus far that the issue of minority rights was addressed not in some small village in northern Greece but in an organized forum in the Greek capital of Athens.