Greece's permanent representative to United Nations on Friday responded in detail to a handful of findings listed in recent report by an independent UN expert on minority issues focusing on the EU and NATO member-state, taking the opportunity to again reiterate Athens' standing positions.
Amb. Frangiskos Verros, speaking before the UN's Human Rights Council, first thanked the UN expert, Gay McDougall, for opening the way "to a frank and constructive dialogue on a number of issues concerning the implementation of human rights standards towards minorities (in Greece)", as he noted.
In reference to the Muslim minority in the extreme northeast Greek province of Thrace, Verros reminded that the Greek government "respects the right of every person to self-identify. However, such self-identification should neither be arbitrary nor at the expense of the right of self-identification of other groups."
He was commenting on claims, mostly put forth by successive Turkish governments, to identify the entire Muslim minority as "Turkish", instead of the internationally recognised "Muslim minority" as foreseen in the landmark 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which refers to a Greek minority in Turkey and a Muslim minority in Greece.
"It is a fact that the Muslim minority in Thrace consists of three distinct groups, those of Turkish, Pomak and Roma (gypsy) origin. Each group has its own distinct spoken language and cultural traditions, which are fully respected. Thus, any attempt to identify the entire Muslim minority in Thrace as 'Turkish' is unacceptable, not only for political reasons, but also because it does not objectively reflect the actual composition of the whole minority," he said, speaking in Geneva.
Verros also charged that any effort by the "Turkish-origin component" of the minority to impose its own cultural characteristics and traditions on the Pomak and Roma communities contravenes modern human rights standards vis-?-vis minority protection.
Moreover, he defended the appointments of muftis, Muslim quasi-judicial officials, as conducted in an absolutely transparent manner, while calling efforts to organise "elections" by certain individuals in the province illegal, pointing to, among others, the exclusion of women and most of the minority's members.
Additionally, he said the Greek government will study possible readjustments with regards to the current and partial application of Sharia law (domestic unions, inheritance etc.) for members of the Muslim minority in Thrace, noting that "Greece takes seriously into account the need to strengthen the substantive review and control by domestic courts of the conformity of muftis' decisions with the Greek constitution and international human rights treaties."
In a separate issue, Verros outlined Greece's categorical and unwavering opposition to any recognition of a "distinct or linguistic minority in Greece by the name 'Macedonian', since the name Macedonian is used in the cultural/regional sense by Greek Macedonians living in the region," Verros' reference to the province of Macedonia, Greece's largest, which more closely approximates to geographical and historical Macedonia.
"Thus, the term 'Macedonian' to denote such an identity in Greece not only fails to respect Hellenic cultural heritage and the identify of 2.5 million Greek Macedonians living there, but also threatens to create a serious confusion or even a potential clash over identities in the whole region," he said, adding:
"Greece believes that references in the report to the name 'Macedonian' to denote an ethnic 'minority' living in the Greek region (province) of Macedonia or a 'language' spoken in this region should have been avoided. These references should not be interpreted as implying a determination that such a minority or language exists in Greece, but claims emanating from the individuals concerned ... Let me add that the political party ("Rainbow" or "Ouranio Toxo"), which claims to represent the so-called 'Macedonian minority', obtained in the Greek parliamentary elections of 1996 a very small number of votes, which further decreased to 1,139 votes in the 2000 elections," Verros said, in reference to the last time the specific political formation stood in national elections.
In concluding, he emphasised that all Greek citizens are free to manifest their traditions and culture, saying festivities and cultural events are regularly held in the Florina region of northwest Greece, where the tiny political party is headquarters.