REPORT ABOUT MINORITIES AND MEDIA IN GREECE
Speech of Mr. Papadakis in Ljubljana (Slovenia)
May 13 2002
By: Georgios N. Papadakis
"Express" Daily Financial Newspaper-Athens
Unfortunately, the general situation in Greece as far as all kinds of
minorities are concerned cannot be yet characterized as satisfactory,
although significant progress was made over the past 10-15 years. Being
a member of the European Union, Greece was (and still is) often forced
to change its attitude on minority issues and the official Greek state
shows today a more tolerable face towards them.
The main problem, though, still remains that Greece is continuously refusing
to recognize the existence of any kind of minorities in its territory.
The only minority that is officially characterized as such, are the Turks
in Western Thrace. However, the Greek state gives this minority a purely
religious character and refers to them not as "Turks" or as"
Greek citizens of Turkish origin" but as "Muslims."
The mentality of the vast majority of the Greek people is also similar.
Having been taught at school that they live in a homogenous society, the
modern Greeks do not tolerate any kind of different approach. Most media
also helped in that matter by excluding almost any other voice that claimed
something that the majority would not like. Journalists or scientists
that expressed a different opinion, were characterized as "liars,"
"dangerous," "trash," or "agents" and their
act as "national treason," to name only a few terms. Some of
them were also threatened with professional or personal extermination.
Even today, where things have improved, very few Greek media give free
space or time to people who want to express their different views or identity.
Nevertheless, Greek media does not generally cover political or cultural
activities of minorities and refuses to report on the numerous trials
that members of these minorities were involved in (mainly as the accused
Of course, the same thing almost always happened each time Greece was
found guilty by the European Court for violating treaties concerning minority
rights. There are many examples of this policy, but three of them are
the most recent and characteristic ones.
The first is about Sotiris Bletsas, a member of the Vlach (Aromanian)
linguistic minority, who distributed back in 1995 a leaflet of EBLUL (semi-official
organization of the EU on lesser used languages). In this leaflet, the
6 linguistic minorities that exist in Greece were stated (Turkish, Pomak,
Macedonian, Vlach, Arvanite and Rom). Mr. Bletsas was sued by the New
Democracy (conservative party) MP Evgenios Haitidis, and was found guilty
in the first degree for "spreading false news against the Greek state"
and sentenced to 15 months of imprisonment and a quite large fine.
Mr. Bletsas appealed to the highest degrees of justice, the European
Court, and was finally cleared in a decision last December, 6 years after
he was first convicted and only after having suffered quite a lot in that
period. Unfortunately, his whole story received almost no coverage from
the Greek media.
The second example comes from the Turkish minority in Thrace. The journalist
and publisher of the independent weekly newspaper "Trakyanin Sesi"
Abdulhalim Dede was brought against justice 4 times in the last 6 years,
accused for several articles that he wrote in his newspaper. At first,
he was found guilty in all 4 and was sentenced to 20 months imprisonment
in total. He appealed, claimed innocent in the first 2 cases from the
Supreme Court and waits now for the other 2 decisions of the same court.
The last case (second hearing is scheduled for the 22nd of May) caused
a reaction among international organizations such as Human Rights Watch
and Federal Union Of European Nationalities (FEUN). FEUN sent a letter
to the Greek Prime Minister, Mr. Simitis, expressing the deepest concern
by its members, regarding the rights of the minorities in an EU state
like Greece. Again, the Greek media remained totally silent.
Last but surely not least comes the issue of the Macedonian minority
in Greece. As mentioned earlier, the Greek state denies the existence
of such an ethnic or linguistic minority in its territory. Not only that,
but the still existing dispute over the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic
of Macedonia made it almost impossible for the ethnic Macedonians who
nowadays live in the Greek part of Macedonia to express themselves in
any way. Any such attempt was seized violently. This happened for example
in 1995 when citizens destroyed the offices of the ethnic Macedonian political
party in Greece "Vinozhito-Rainbow".
Most of the Greek press spoke then about an act of "anger"
and "justice" against very few people who were paid by FYROM
to create non-existing problems and harm Greece. The people who destroyed
the offices are well known to the authorities but no one is yet brought
to justice. On the other hand, members of the "Vinozhito-Rainbow"
party were constantly prosecuted with the accusation of "spreading
false information that could cause public disorder" and after 3 years
of judicial efforts they were able to prove their innocence. Once again,
the Greek media who did not spare words to condemn them, made absolutely
no reports when all this was proved wrong and unfair.
Members of the ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece have every now and
then problems with nationalists who try to bring them to court for actually
no reason. Just because they are trying to express themselves in their
own language. Greek media were present in such trials only when they want
to support the accusations. Otherwise, they do not usually dedicate even
a line to describe the stories. They did just the same with the attempt
by some ethnic Macedonians to found the Home of the Macedonian Culture
(HMC) in Florina (Lerin).
For 12 years, Greek courts and lawyers have done everything in their
power to deny these people the right to form such a purely cultural organization.
Luckily, the European Ombudsman and pressure of the EU organs put an end
to it and HMC is almost a reality now. These institutions also made it
easier for the ethnic Macedonians to be able today to dance and sing in
their mother tongue.
Recently, EBLUL finally managed to establish an office in Greece also
and this is also considered as a big step for the recognition and the
salvation of the Macedonian and the other less used languages within the
Greek borders. Unfortunately, only two daily newspapers in Athens (Eleftherotypia
and Express) covered this interesting story, proving that there is a lot
more to be done in order for the Greek people to be informed properly
in such matters.
This, of course, came as no surprise since in the recent elections all
Greek TV stations (with the exception of TV Seven) refused the "Vinozhito-Rainbow"
party its constitutional right to express its principles and program.
The Greek Law for smaller political parties has made it clear and obligatory
for all TV channels with a nation-wide license to give at least 5 minutes
of their time free to such parties, a month or closer to elections. Unfortunately,
the law was violated and there were no reactions or penalties to that.
This anti-minority attitude of the press combined with the need of the
minorities to express themselves, lead to the birth of newspapers, magazines
and radio stations. As easily understood, the Turkish minority of Thrace
had the privilege of being recognized by the state, so it was easier for
them to establish their own media. The first weekly newspaper in Turkish
was founded in 1975 (ILERI) and it was followed by 4 more newspapers,
5 magazines and 5 radio stations in the prefectures of Rodopi, Xanthi,
The main issue with all this media was (and still is) that very few can
claim today that they are really independent. Apart from today' s much
better relations, the constant tension of the past decades between Greece
and Turkey often made the minority media vulnerable to political and ethnical
influence of both sites. Some of them are considered to support the official
policy of Turkey towards the minority, as it is expressed from the Turkish
consulate in Komotini. Other media focus on the religious aspects of the
minority and are believed to be attached to the Greek state' s side.
Unfortunately, the isolation, in which the Greek state had put the Pomaks
of Thrace and the absence of any kind of written tradition has led them
to believe that they are also Turks in origin. The only thing, though,
that they have in common with the Turkish minority is the religion, since
their oral language sounds much more Slavic than Turkish. Therefore, due
to all of these reasons the Pomaks have not developed any kind of media,
apart from an amateurish Greek-Pomak dictionary.
A completely different picture than the one described about the Turkish
minority is to be found by the ethnic Macedonians who still live in the
Greek part of Macedonia. Since they are considered as "non-existent"
by the Greek state, they do not have the right to learn their mother tongue.
The younger Macedonians learned it orally from their parents and some
of them tried to express their views in Greek or in Macedonian through
the Greek alphabet.
Although practically illegal, the first attempt was made in the late
80's in Aridea (Sabotsko) with the weekly newspaper "Moglena".
After the "Vinozhito-Rainbow" party was founded, "Moglena"
was restructured, published articles also in the Cyrillic alphabet and
was renamed to "Zora", being the official voice of the party.
Due mainly to financial reasons, the presence of the magazine was not
constant. It stopped several times, then was once more renamed to "Nova
Zora" and after four copies was put again to a halt. Today, it has
the form of a monthly news bulletin with the name "Info Zora".
Another very touching effort to keep the Macedonian culture alive is
the magazine "Loza" which first came to life in 2000 and had
so far only four issues (in Greek and Macedonian in Greek fonts) again
due to financial reasons. The newly established and recognized HMC plans
also to create a magazine and a radio station later in the future.
No such media can be found in the other 3 linguistic minorities in the
country. The establishment of the EBLUL office, though, may lead to the
first attempts, especially from the Vlachs, with the Bletsas case helping
also a lot in that direction. They also have a famous and well-preserved
cultural tradition, which they feel, though, that is not presented properly
by the Greek media.
The Rom face today a quite discriminating attitude from the Greek society
and the Greek media and they complain that they are on TV and the papers
only for bad news. The same happened recently when the police killed a
Roma in Zefyri-Athens and a few days with riots and shootings followed
that incident. It happens also when they are forced to leave their settlements
and move somewhere else by the local authorities all over Greece due to
complains from other citizens, concerning noise, personal hygiene, criminality
and child abuse.
Despite of these facts, no organized attempt to establish a form of Roma
media has been made, mainly because most of them are poor and illiterate.
The Arvanites also don' t own any media but they also don' t seem very
keen to have those. Although quite numerous and well-spread all over continental
Greece, this linguistic minority is far from united and seems more interested
in hiding its origins than having its own media.