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Greece's stance towards
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Lawed Arguments
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Minutes of the conference on linguistic diversity in Greece

click here to visit the EBLUL homepage

Read this page in Greek

 

The conference on "Linguistic Diversity in Greece", organised by the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages (EBLUL) together with the Greek Member State Committee of EBLUL, took place the 15th November 2002 in the Hotel Capsis, in Thessaloniki. The conference started at 9 A.M. and finished at 8 P.M. Previous to the conference a fact-finding mission of 3 experts took place; the conference was followed by a visit to the areas where lesser-used languages are spoken.

Morning session: Results of the fact-finding mission

1. Opening speech by Mr Bojan Brezigar, President of the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages.

In his introduction the President of EBLUL, Mr Bojan Brezigar showed his satisfaction with this first conference of EBLUL in Greece. Facing enlargement, the EU has to find standards regarding lesser-used languages. In the future all of the Balkans will be part of the European Union. There will be no borders from Athens to Helsinki and all countries will have the same currency. One of the advantages is a common currency and other common standards. But not everything should be standardised. Europe is full of diversity, where every village has its own church, museum and above all language. It's not a melting pot like the United States and Europeans want to preserve the diversity. They can accept a common currency and other standardization, but not the same language, the same theatre nor the same history. This is the reason why the European Institutions defend the values expressed in the Charter for Fundamental Rights. The preservation of cultural and linguistic diversity can make us accept the standardization in all other domains. The European Union should give opportunities to those who want to keep their own language. While a general promotion and respect for lesser-used languages should be found, each regional or minority language should - according to the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages of the Council of Europe - decide its way. The situation in Greece is a bit different from the rest of Europe. The Balkans has suffered from several wars apart from the two world wars. The European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages has always been working with the governments and not against the governments.

2. Welcoming speech by Mr Athanasios Parisis, president of the Greek MSC.

Mr Parisis stressed that within the EU there are 40 millions of lesser-used language speakers. All Member States have lesser-used languages and Greece is no exception in this regard, although some people like to think of a monolingual Greece.

Education and Media are the most important fields for lesser-used languages in Greece, and in relation to this Mr Parisis asked for the support of the European Union, the Council of Europe and the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages. He also spoke about the troubled history of the Balkans, with wars and consequently refugee problems. The history and a long tradition have shaped the mentality of the Greek people. Parisis urged for the support of the mass media for the different linguistic communities.

3. Presentation of the results of the fact-finding mission by Mr Gabriel von Toggenburg, Mr Bela Tonkovic and Mr Domenico Morelli.

The fact-finding mission was composed of Mr Bela Tonkovic - Vice-president of FUEN, Mr Domenico Morelli - President of the Italian MSC, Mr Gabriel von Toggenburg - EURAC. Consultations took place with approximately 40 persons from the Macedonian and the Vlach languages communities. According to Mr Toggenburg, psychological pressure with the interlocutors was obvious. Many think they are the last generation being able to speak the minority language and often they feel ashamed of their identity ("second class citizens"). There are virtually no cultural organisations which expressis verbis promote minority cultures and languages. This primary scope seems often hidden. Some people were convinced, that the chances for a career would be limited if the real lesser-used language identity is revealed.

Facts:
1. People think diversity is getting lost;

2. Loyalty towards the Greek state is strong, but additional identity is requested;

3. EU as a source of hope.

Mr von Toggenburg also pointed out that the situation is dire, there's an enormous loss of identity. The languages are not represented in the media. When Macedonian speakers tuned into to listen to the transmissions of a Radio channel from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, a Greek channel was placed on exactly the same frequency. Mr Tonkovic stressed that the solution to all these problems should be found through dialogue. Mr Morelli pointed out the strong belief in the European institutions. The establishment of a Greek Member State Committee has given them hope.

4. Presentation by Mr Lampros Baltsiotis, lawyer, KEMO, Minority Languages Research Centre.

Mr Baltsiotis explained first the reason for the centre, which lies in the fact that so far the scientific voice was absent in Greece. Then he focused on the historical development of lesser used languages in Greece and the different treatments of the Greek states towards the language groups. Baltsiotis also spoke about the conception of a Greek homeland, about the motto of a Greek national state, but pointed out that Greece has changed a lot in recent years.

A representative of the Turkish speaking community asked why his lesser-used language community was not visited by the fact-finding mission.

Mr Brezigar added, that the fact-finding mission depended on geographical constraints.

5. Presentation by Mr Sotirios Bletsas, Vice-president of the Greek MSC

Recent experience with media showed, that people who defend linguistic diversity in Greece are looked upon with disapproval by the Greek authorities. Nevertheless, now lesser-used languages have access to the media. To make our presence known, we should send letters to famous people. This could create an immense support. We should also aim for increased presence in TV and Radio. Above all we should show the Greeks that learning lesser-used languages is an asset. Bletsas stressed that with the presence of EBLUL in Greece we could more easily carry out these things.

Comment by Mr Brezigar:

Mr Brezigar suggests preparing a draft project for the promotion of linguistic diversity within the Expo 2008 in Thessaloniki. Regarding the Olympic Games 2004 time seems to be running out. When people ask me why they should learn a lesser-used language instead of English I used to give the basic policy of Commissioner Reding as an answer; one language does not exclude another, they should learn both. For instance Greeks could learn English together with Macedonian. The teaching of regional or minority languages could be improved together with Greek and an International Language.

Comment by Mr Baltsiotis:

Too often the lesser-used language speakers have to apologise for using his mother tongue and not the official language of the state.

Comment by Ms Kata Kulavkova of PEN International:

Linguistic problems in this region are often closely linked to neighbour states.

Comment by Bojan Brezigar:

One of our main principles is that there should be no change of borders; lesser-used languages should not have anything to do with the drawing up of borders. Brezigar also gave his recognition for the good work that PEN International has done in this field.

Afternoon session: Best practices in the promotion of lesser used languages.

6. Presentation by Mr Peter Nelde, Professor at the Brussels Research Centre on Multilingualism: Do lesser used languages need a common European language policy?

Prof. Nelde explained the importance of a new overall and inclusive approach, taking into consideration not only traditional languages but migrant languages as well. The first problem language planners encounter is that the terminology changes from a country to another. Nevertheless, it is certain, that the future Europe will be a linguistically diverse and a multilingual one. He mentioned seven aspects that affect language policy. The concept for multilingualism is important. The future of Europe will be a multilingual one. It's easy to tell how many official languages there are but more difficult to estimate the number of lesser-used language speakers. Translation and Interpretation, Nelde mentioned that translation and interpretation costs are very low in comparison with other expenses. Globalisation, he said that people are generally afraid of loosing their roots, even though most are open to globalisation. Due to globalisation we have new identities. Before you had Greeks, Germans, French etc, now new ones are challenging these identities. Nelde mentioned the example of a person from Wemmel, who in Brussels would call himself a Wemmelaar, in Flanders maybe Brusselaar, in Wallonia he would present himself as a Fleming, outside Belgium as a Belgian and in Japan perhaps as a European. Information Technology, Nelde mentioned for instance that the Sorbs have used an IT-programme to revitalise their language. He also said that the ideology of education is important. There's a trend to teach English and French as foreign languages in schools throughout Europe. There's seldom an education ideology of neighbouring languages. Having International in Athens and Thessaloniki does not tell anything about the education of lesser-used languages. Nelde also pointed out that language education varies from country to country. In Luxemburg most children learn 4 or 5 languages, but this is not at all the case in the neighbouring countries. Finally he brought up the topics of subsidiariety versus centralism and the concept of positive discrimination. Nelde made a comparison of the centralism in France and the decentralist structure of the German state. To illustrate the concept of positive discrimination Nelde mentioned that lesser-used language communities could be guaranteed special rights, for instance the Dutch teachers in Brussels are more expensive than the French teachers.

7. Presentation by Mr Domenico Morelli, President of the Italian MSC: A comparison of lesser-used language legislation in Greece and Italy.

Mr Morelli compared the history of the unitary states of Greece and Italy and pointed out some fundamental similarities. In spite of the substantial ethnic, linguistic and religious unity of the whole of the Italian peninsula political unity was only reached in 1861. The Hellenic state was established in 1830. The model both states had in mind goes back to the liberal idea of a unitary state, which can be summarised in the phrase "one state, one language, one culture". This policy has very much characterised both Italy and Greece. Morelli mentioned that Italy imposed the Florentine dialect as the only recognised national language to the detriment of all other languages spoken. This linguistic policy was aggravated by fascism, which waged a hard war of assimilation and destruction of the linguistic minorities. The same model characterises the Greek state, where Greek was declared official language and the existence of any other language was ignored. Morelli pointed out that in Greece the national identity drew a particular character from religion. The recognition of regional or minority languages has been granted only thanks to international agreements both in Greece and in Italy.

Morelli said that he hoped that the creation of Member State Committee in Greece might be a helpful initiative for the recognition of the lesser-used languages and their cultures. That recognition does not clash either with the unitary nature of national States or with the process of construction of the European Union, but it may encourage it. And this is shown by the experience of trans-frontier relations. He stressed that trans-frontier co-operation, in fact, has grown to strengthen cultural, social, linguistic and economic ties beyond traditional frontiers. He mentioned the case of the Griki in Apulia. Thanks to the Italian law of protection and to their frequent and fertile relations with Greece they have worked out a whole series of initiatives, going from exchange of teachers to twin-ships between schools and to commercial and cultural exchanges. All this has made the Griki community flourish again. It has been internationally acknowledged that an action in favour of lesser-used languages guarantees peace and stability of nations.

Morelli finally stressed that a common Europe may give us an opportunity to strengthen a general regional or minority language protection policy. The interest in regional or minority languages and cultures would become a sign of pluralism and tolerance in a multicultural and multiethnic society.

8. Presentation by Mr Gabriel Von Toggenburg, researcher at the European Academy: Chances and limits set by the EU.

The European Union is a newcomer in the area of regional or minority language protection. There are positive and negative aspects. The Council mainly represents the member state interest, which is usually reluctant to changes, whereas the European Parliament is more in favour of regional or minority languages. The resolutions of the European parliament are not legally binding for the member states. The financial side is very positive, the budget line for the safeguard for regional and minority languages grew from € 100.000 when it started to € 4 million last year, but it was finally put down because of the decision of the European Court of Justice. Concerning the eastern enlargement, the Copenhagen criteria are used in all negotiations for the protection of minorities. There are however no legal obligations for the new member states concerning regional or minority language legislation.

The common market could also be seen as a threat, it tends to realise the mobility of workers, capital etc. Regional or minority language protection tends to favour the preservation of things. It's rare under International Public Law that in an international organisation, the languages of the member states become official languages of the whole organisation.

It could be claimed that this linguistic diversity hampers the free market. The ideal situation from a free market economy point of view would be that all speak one language or that all speak all languages. The most recent policy is that all should speak all languages, this is good for linguistic diversity but does not really matter for regional or minority languages. Since EU is a common market, if a member state wants to promote it's own language, it risks infringing the common market. When it comes to the labelling of products and the protection of the consumer, the European Court of Justice has ruled that the label on the product only has to be clear to the consumer, signs for instance could be used instead of languages.

A problem concerning EU intervention is the article 6 that claims that EU can't demand that a member state is more diverse than itself. Culture is also competence of the member states.

9. Presentation by Ms Marieke Sanders, Member of the European Parliament.

MEP Marieke Sanders said that one of the important tasks of the Inter-group for Regional and Minority Languages in the European Parliament is to raise awareness among fellow MEPs. She also noted that the discussion is quite tense here in Greece when it comes to lesser-used languages. Sanders stressed the importance of languages and said that being denied the right to speak the language was social amputation. Governments should realise what they do if they suppress lesser-used languages in the public domain. The European Parliament can support linguistic diversity. The fact that there is not any legal base for regional and minority languages is outrageous, according to Sanders. She also pointed out that the European Parliament has demanded special attention for lesser-used languages and demand a follow up to the successful programme the European Year of Languages 2001. Sanders mention the possibility of the EU to support lesser-used languages through its budget, the parliament can help with structural funds and allocate money for language teaching. The European Parliament should keep lesser-used languages on the agenda. For Greece this means that the European Parliament can help raise awareness. Sanders stressed that linguistic diversity is an asset and a richness.

10. Presentation by Ms Teresa Condeço, Administrator at the DG for Education and Culture at the European Commission.

Ms Condeço presented the Commission Working Document on the promotion of language learning and linguistic diversity. The Commission Working Document will be put soon on the official web site www.europa.eu.int and will launch a public consultation on the promotion of language learning and linguistic diversity.

Condeço also mentioned that the European Union action to promote language learning through the Socrates and Leonardo da Vinci programmes alone is worth around 35 millions euros every year. She added that whilst some support is available from the Socrates and Leonardo da Vinci

programmes, it should be investigated whether they could play a greater part in promoting linguistic diversity by the funding of projects to improve the quality of teaching of these languages.

The commission is also investigating possibilities to find more funding Leonardo da Vinci and Sokrates and the other programmes of the EU. Condeço also explained how the Commission could support projects promoting lesser-used languages and integrate the projects into their programmes. She also said that the Commission would like to hear what the language activists had to say and hoped that they would present proposals. Condeço also mentioned the debate on the future programmes that are going on right now.

11. Presentation by Ms Regina Jensdottir, Administrator of the Charter for Regional and Minority Languages at the Council of Europe.

Ms Regina Jensdottir gave a brief presentation of what the Council of Europe can do for the promotion of regional and minority languages. She mentioned the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. The Charter protects the historical regional and minority languages in Europe that are different from the official languages of the state, it does not include dialects nor the languages of immigrants. There is a risk that some of these regional or minority languages may become extinct in the near future. She underlined that the Charter is clear on the fact that regional or minority languages should not be protected at the detriment of the official language of the State. The Council of Europe is also encouraging the use of regional and minority languages in the field education.

Comment by Gabriel von Toggenburg:

Gabriel von Toggenburg pointed out that article 22 is not a legal basis and that there could never be a legal act based on this article, but there are other articles that could function as a legal basis. He stressed that when the EU is acting in other fields than culture it has to respect diversity. Von Toggenburg also asked what happens after enlargement of the European Union when the accession criteria disappear? Could a new mechanism {for regional or minority language protection} be established?

Marieke Sanders answered that in the convention they strive to change the decision-making on culture from unanimity to majority voting, but also stressed that there are certain risks with majority voting as well. Concerning the problems related to enlargement she answered that the debate is still going on and there are no final proposals yet how to solve the problem.

12. Mr Tonkovic forwarded a greeting from the Federal Union of European Nations.

13. Concluding remarks and thank you speeches by Mr Brezigar and Mr Parisis.

Mr Brezigar and Mr Parisis stressed in their speeches of thanks the importance of the conference for the promotion of lesser-used languages in Greece. They both noted that the conference was well organised and thanked the speakers and the participants for their valuable contribution.

 

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