On the Acquittal of Mr. Bletsas
by Dr. Georgios Nakratzas
Rotterdam, December 29, 2001
Unfortunately the acquittal of Mr. Bletsas has either not been reported at all by the Greek press or been accorded very little coverage. This is in line with the usual policy over many years of the Greek media in their coverage of the so-called 'ethnic issues'.
This announcement is intended to counter, as far as possible, the highly selective coverage of such issues by the Greek press.
On 18 December 2001 Mr. Bletsas was acquitted, by unanimous decision of the Athens Three-Member Appeal Court, of the charge brought against him by the right-wing member of parliament of the New Democracy party, Mr. Haitidis.
Mr. Haitidis had accused Mr. Bletsas of distributing or displaying a leaflet published by the European Bureau for Lesser-Used Languages (EBLUL) which asserted the existence in Greece of five linguistic minorities. Mr. Haitidis had claimed that this action constituted the criminal offence of inciting unrest among the Greek people through the dissemination of false information.
It is clear that, despite his position as a member of the Greek parliament, Mr. Haitidis is incapable of appreciating the difference between the concept of a linguistic minority and that of an ethnic minority.
The acquittal of Mr. Bletsas is a historic landmark for Greek society, not so much because it represents the acquittal of a wrongly-accused Greek citizen, but because the existence of five linguistic minorities in Greece has now been acknowledged by a Greek court.
Greek society has now recognised de jure, by virtue of a court decision, the positions of the European Union, as represented by the EBLUL, an official EU organisation, namely that alongside the Greek language there are five other languages spoken on Greek soil, the languages of the five linguistic minorities: Arvanitic, Vlach, Slavo-Macedonian (Macedonian), Turkish and Pomak.
The legal recognition of the linguistic minorities of Greece does not, of course, automatically entail recognition of the corresponding ethnic minorities. For example, it is well known that the Greek citizens of western Thrace, whose mother tongue is Pomak, feel themselves to be Turkish.
The decision to acquit Mr. Bletsas was due to the enlightened ideas not only of the three Greek judges of the Athenian appeal court, but also of the prosecutor in the case.
A role in the decision may also have been played by pressure from abroad, specifically:
1) The question put in the European Parliament by the MEP's of the EFA,
Messrs. Eurig Wyn and Gorka Knorr Borras, concerning the conviction of Mr. Bletsas.
2) The question put in the European Parliament by the Christian Democrat MEP Mr. Arie Oostlander, again concerning the conviction of Mr. Bletsas.
3) The uncompromising letter sent to the Greek government by Mrs. Vivian Reding, EU Commissioner for education and culture, describing the conviction of Mr. Bletsas as a matter of great seriousness for the European Union and requesting more detailed information, including the minutes of the court proceedings.
4) The protest made against the conviction of Mr. Bletsas by the Council of EBLUL at its meeting in Dublin on 2 February 2001.
5) The question put in the Parliament of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg by Mr. de Puig concerning the conviction of Mr. Bletsas.
6) The letter of protest at the conviction of Mr. Bletsas from the Norwegian Forum for Freedom of Expression.
7) The letter of protest signed by 81 delegates from all over Europe attending the international conference on local or minority languages held in the Netherlands on 30 November 2001, demanding the acquittal of Mr. Bletsas.
8) The campaign by the Greek Helsinki Monitor against the conviction of Mr. Bletsas.
9) The campaign by part of the Greek press (led by the IOS journalists of the paper Eleftherotypia) against the conviction of Mr. Bletsas.
10) The protest of the Athens Society for Vlach Culture against the conviction of Mr. Bletsas.
11) The publications of the ???? (Study Center of Minorities).
12) The protest of Rainbow, the political party of the ethnic Macedonians of Greece, against the conviction of Mr. Bletsas.
13) The reaction of ???? (Greek political Party - Renovative Modernist Movement of the Left) against the conviction of Mr. Bletsas.
14) The reaction of the Turkish Minority Movement for Human and Minority Rights against the conviction of Mr. Bletsas.
15) The letter of protest to Mr. Prodi written by Mr. Bogdan Gabowsky as Romanian Human Rights Observer against the conviction of Mr. Bletsas.
16) The protest of the Association des Francais Aroumains against the conviction of Mr. Bletsas.
17) Numerous other representations, of which I do not have the originals.
In order to permit the timely monitoring of similar incidents opposed to the principles of the European Union, the leadership of EBLUL, in the person of its President Mr. Bojan Brezigar and the President of the Italian section Mr. Domenico Morelli, decided that a special conference of representatives of the linguistic minorities in northern Greece should be held to decide on the creation of a Greek section of EBLUL.
I am greatly honoured that the aforesaid EBLUL officials have entrusted me with the task of organising, in the immediate future, this conference of linguistic minorities, to be attended exclusively by representatives of minority cultural and linguistic organisations.
I should like to take this opportunity to wish all citizens of Greece a Happy New Year.
Dr. Georgios Nakratzas
Political Advisor of EFA on minority issues in Greece and the Balkans.
N.B. Please be so kind as to forward this announcement to your friends and acquaintances, in order to help us compensate