European Parliament Conference Calls for Greece to Recognise and Better Protect its Minorities
On 2 March 2016, Csaba Sógor MEP (EPP), hosted a conference at the European Parliament in Brussels titled ‘Freedom of Association in Greece: A Loophole in European Minority Rights Standards’. The conference, organised in association with the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) and the Federation of Western Thrace Turks in Europe (ABTTF), received unexpected attention as two Golden Dawn MEPs (non-attached) were caught on camera attempting to derail the conversation, immediately denying the existence of any minority other than the ‘Muslim minority’ referred to in the Lausanne Treaty.
The conference heard speeches from Mr Nils Torvalds MEP (ALDE), Dr Panayote Dimitras (Spokesperson of the Greek Helsinki Monitor), Ms Eugenia Natsoulidou (Founder of the Macedonian Educative and Culture Movement of EDESSA), Ms Melek Kırmacı Arık (International Affairs Director of ABTTF), and Ms Johanna Green (Programme Manager at UNPO). All speakers mentioned the gap between rhetoric and action, namely, that although Greece claims to protect its minorities’ rights, this is neither true in law or in fact. Indeed, in law, the only minority group recognised by the Greek government is the Muslim minority, thus no legal recognition of ethnic minorities such as the Turks or Macedonians is in place. On this point, Ms Natsoulidou referred to the ‘unsolvable problem’ of the Greek constitution’s Article 16(2) – on the development of national and religious conscience – which enables Greek politicians to dictate how the citizens should think and feel. Dr Dimitras then stressed the fact that the majority of the Greek population (including the politicians themselves) have a very limited knowledge about minority rights and issues, and that without awareness there could be no hope of change.
Another important topic raised throughout the conference was a number of cases brought against Greece in the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), by minority groups in Greece who had not been allowed to register their organisation because they used minority terminology in the name. In these cases the Court found Greece to have violated the groups’ right to freedom of association (Article 11) under the European Convention on Human Rights. Significantly, none of these judgments have been acted on, and the speakers all pushed for the recognition and implementation of these rulings.
The conference confirmed that more dialogue and debate is needed both at the national and European levels to overcome the politics of fear that continue to hamper progressive reform of minority rights legislation. As Ms Kırmacı emphasised, the non-implementation of the ECtHR judgments is not due simply to procedural reasons, but rather linked to the political question of recognising the Muslim minority of Western Thrace as Turkish. Finally, the conference called for the establishment of a policy framework or instrument to protect minority rights at the EU level. The European Union prides itself on its core values of respect for human rights and promotion of democracy; therefore to continue to allow Greece, a Member State since 1981, to violate the rights of its minorities in untenable.
To access the photos from the event click here