Statement by the Head of the Greek Delegation in Reply to the Yugoslav Intervention at the Plenary Session of June 22, 1990

CSCE, CONFERENCE ON HUMAN DIMENSION

Copenhagen, June 5-29, 1990

Plenary, 25.6.90

The statement made by the distinguished representative of Yugoslavia last Friday, (June 22) and the Memorandum circulated on the same day by the Yugoslav delegation, are typical examples of how a state can undermine our collective efforts in the framework of the CSCE for safeguarding and promoting human rights and the rights of persons belonging to minorities. In this respect, it has provided evidence of how states, motivated by internal pressures, might be inclined to manipulate mechanisms and principles in the service of extremist and adventurist policies.

The Human Dimension process of the CSCE aims at the protection of Human Rights of persons in need for such protection. It does not, and should not, provide an excuse and alibi to governments promoting aims other than the protection of Human Rights.

The Yugoslav Memorandum, its structure and especially its phraseology, certainly, do not reflect the views of those in Yugoslavia who believe—as the Greeks do—in the friendship and cooperation between our two neighbouring countries.

The aggressive tone as well as the substance of this document, have increased our apprehension about the state of internal developments in Yugoslavia. More particularly, it has deepened our concern about that part of Yugoslavia bordering Greece, Bulgaria and Albania. I refer to the S.R. of Macedonia, a federative unit of Yugoslavia. In recent years, but more so in recent months, extremist nationalist manifestations, frequently under the guidance and encouragement of local authorities in Skopje, have rendered that republic a hotbed of racial intolerance and nationalist activism.

The consequences of such activity have been reflected in the relations of the F.R. of Yugoslavia with all three countries bordering the S.R. of Macedonia.

Domestically, the traditionally negative record of human and minority rights violations in Yugoslav Macedonia has been further marred by a series of restrictive and oppressive measures against all its national and ethnic minorities, and especially against the sizeable Albanian minority. We do not have in mind Kossovo, but the estimated 600.000 ethnic Albanians which comprise more than 1/4 of the total population of the S.R. of Macedonia. It is a fact, that events in Kossovo have overshadowed the more subtle ways of oppression exercised by the authorities in Skopje against the Albanian minority. Arbitrary arrests have been recorded, the teaching of the Albanian language in many schools has been banned or drastically curtailed: Albanians are not allowed to acquire property in cities or in districts outside the already heavily populated by Albanians regions while an effort is made to reduce their numbers by classifying a part of them as "Macedonian Moslems".

Other groups do not fare any better. As freedom of expression is gradually gaining ground also in Yugoslavia, the Serbs are finally raising their voice for the suffering of their kin in the S.R. of Macedonia. They speak of 45 years of forced de-nationalisation and compulsory "Macedonisation"; eviction of Serbs from their native land; confiscation of their properties; refusal to grant pensions owed to them; desecration of cemeteries; and, worse yet, of a "cultural genocide", through the appropriation of historical Serb monuments and churches and their arbitrary christening as "Macedonian".

The list could be a long one and probably tiresome. But one more question needs to be asked: "What has actually happened to all those hundreds of thousands of inhabitants in the region, presently called the S.R. of Macedonia who were listed under their ethnic names in statistics prior to World War II"?

We sense that the moment of truth and the real story of what has happened in the S.R. of Macedonia after the end of the Second World War, is approaching fast.

Delegates may have been surprised at the tone and the volume of activity in recent days, both inside and in the periphery of the Conference, revolving around the Macedonian Question: an almost forgotten issue since the Greek Civil War of 1946-1949.

That, Mr. Chairman, was an unfortunate moment in modem Greek history, which Greeks of all political shades have decided to leave to history. By an act of Parliament unanimously passed last year, they regulated all relevant outstanding question. But the Greek Civil War has been also a black page in Greek-Yugoslav relations, because at the time certain hegemonistic circles in Yugoslavia tried to capitalise on internal Greek difficulties to advance their claims on Greek Macedonia. It is unfortunate that the spectre of that tragic period is being reawakened by certain extremists.

Without the knowledge of those events one can hardly understand the real issues and the true motives of what was presented at this conference under the guise of human rights and minority rights. It is unfortunate that the Yugoslav memorandum attempted so bluntly to distort the presentation of historical facts in order to misguide the audience (see Annex attached).

For forty years, Greece had chosen to remain silent, although repeatedly provoked. It had done so for two reasons: On the one hand, the alien Slav element, as a result of its role during the Occupation and the Civil War, had left the country en masse and the prospect of its manipulation by a neighbouring country to threaten the security and territorial integrity of the country had been removed; on the other hand, at the time of the Cold War and, subsequently, during the period of delicate balances between East and West, the preservation of good Greek-Yugoslav relations were to the mutual interest of both countries. Despite frequent outbursts from Skopje, until Tito's death, occasional references by Belgrade to a so-called "Macedonian minority" in Greece, were more or less of an academic nature. It was well known in Belgrade that there was no more material basis for such claims. It was only in the mid-1980's when internal ethnic conflicts in Yugoslavia began to get out of control, that fanatic nationalist elements in Skopje and in the diaspora began to launch attacks on Greece. Once again, Greece chose to remain silent, appealing to Belgrade for moderation. Although this attitude was shared by many responsible Yugoslavs in Belgrade and the various republics, it was becoming increasingly evident that the federal government was unable and probably unwilling to restrain the nationalists in Skopje.

Thus over the past two years, meetings and reunions have been organised in Skopje of groups from all over the world, aiming at stimulating old nationalist yearnings. Radio Skopje's Greek language emissions have assumed an aggressive and divisive tone, reminiscent of the Civil War years. Furthermore, agitation has been encouraged in the diaspora, even in far away countries such as Australia and Canada, where Slav-Macedonians emigrated after the termination of the Civil War.

Under the circumstances, Greek Macedonians in the diaspora felt their own cultural identity being threatened or challenged. In this context let me cite, Mr. Chairman, a paragraph from an open letter addressed to the participants of this Conference by the Pan-Macedonian Association of Canada:

"................

Aware of the fact that territorial claims to Greek Macedonia are contrary to the letter and spirit of the CSCE, the Yugoslavs have.......opted for the human rights approach.

The whole operation was carefully orchestrated by the authorities in Skopje. Assuming that the international community has forgotten events of half a century ago, they were involved in a systematic falsification of historical data, misrepresentation of opponents' views and distortions of figures, repeating, ad nauseam, inaccuracies, half truths and outright lies.

This policy has particularly affected the thousands of Greek Macedonians of Canada, Australia, the United States of America, and indeed, the whole of the Hellenic diaspora. In short, Greek Macedonians have been the target of a policy of a cultural aggression and political intimidation. To be precise:

Furthermore, they sought to appropriate as their own cultural heritage, Greek archaeological finds –including the emblem of the Macedonian King Philip–and the beautiful Byzantine churches and icons painted by Greek Byzantine artists in Macedonia. These initiatives appear to us to constitute one of the most flagrant and unbearable violations of human rights as they aim at usurping the historical and cultural heritage of a people: the Greek people of Macedonia.

........."

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that such activities are fully endorsed, if not instigated by the competent authorities in Skopje. What, however, has increased our concern is that the federal government in Belgrade has now chosen to endorse not only policies of the local authorities but also the activities of Slav-Macedonian groups abroad. Thus, the Yugoslav Government is unfortunately co-sponsoring the activities of such groups.

In an effort to shift the blame on the other side, the distinguished delegate of Yugoslavia made reference in his speech to alleged violation by Greece of certain international instruments.

Let me recall, Mr. Chairman, that Greece is an open society based on the fundamental values of democracy and pluralism in which the rule of law prevails. The Greek Constitution is a modem and liberal one which guarantees full protection of human rights and freedoms of all persons living within Greek territory irrespective of nationality, race or language and of religious or political beliefs.

My country, a member of the democratic family of the European Communities, has already ratified most of the regional and international human rights instruments. Their provisions do not only form an integral part of Greek law but according to the Constitution they also prevail over any contrary provision of law and the Greek courts are bound to ensure their application ex officio.

Of all the international instruments which Greece has ratified we would like to mention, in particular, the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Greece has recognised without any reservation the competence of the European Commission of Human Rights to receive individual petitions from individuals or groups of individuals claiming to be victims of a violation of the rights set forth in the European Convention for the protection of Human Rights (art.25).

We have also recognised unconditionally the compulsory jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, whose decisions not only influence the Greek Courts when examining cases of violation of Human Rights but also serve to bring the Greek laws and their application into line with the provisions of the Convention.

The record of Greece in the field of human rights is impressive and this is obvious by even a cursory look at the various reports of responsible NGOS dealing with these issues. We have always recognised our responsibility to contribute constructively for a better and more effective protection of the rights of persons belonging to minorities at regional and international level.

Having said that, we would like to stress, that despite the strong accusation of the Yugoslav Delegation against Greece for alleged "violations" of human rights of the so-called "Macedonian national minority", not even one person or group of persons of this "ghost" minority, has all these years lodged a single complaint against the Greek State for such violations before the Greek Courts or before any other competent international organ.

Let me add two further comments Mr. Chairman:

References to alleged violations of international acts by Greece are so manifestly unfounded that one gets the impression that the distinguished delegate of Yugoslavia was merely quoting from a list of concrete violations of such international instruments perpetrated systematically by his country over a period of more than forty years.

In their haste to throw slander at my country, the authors of the Yugoslav Memorandum have gone to the point of accusing Greece of violating international conventions which .... are still in the drafting stage. I refer here to the Charter of the Regional and Minority Languages now under discussion in the Council of Europe. Similar inaccurate references are to be found in other citations as well.

I would also like to say a few words in answer to certain insinuations contained in the Yugoslav Memorandum concerning Greek legislation for the termination of the consequences of the Greek Civil War.

Let me first state that it is at least odd, that the country which bears a heavy responsibility for the sufferings of the Greek people at that time should raise an issue for the repatriation to Greece of those who sought to detach part of Greek territory and annex it to Yugoslavia. We do not wish to open our records on the role played by the regime of Yugoslavia in 1946-1948, against the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of my country. We believe that this should be left to historians. What I want to point out, here, is that successive Greek governments have sought to regulate issues connected which the political refugees of the Civil War. The decision of 20.12.1982, provided for the automatic return of all Greek political refugees. In certain cases, however, when persons involved were engaged not merely in the Civil War, but in seditious activities such as the detachment of Greek territories in favour of a foreign country, their cases were examined separately. Concerning the law regulating, as a matter of social readjustment, property questions of repatriated persons, that law refers specifically to Greek citizens permanently residing in Greece.

And now, Mr. Chairman, I would like to make the following concluding remarks:

At the end of the Occupation and, again, upon termination of the Civil War, the small Slavic element of the population, which had been actively involved in these activities, left the country en masse. Thus, no "Macedonian national minority"—as the Yugoslav text implies—exists in Greece today. This is a reality which all Greek political parties endorse. Moreover, it is the conviction of almost 2.500.000 people, who live in Greek Macedonia, who are proud of their Macedonian name, as Greeks, and of their cultural heritage. Any attempt to usurp their name and to tamper with their heritage is viewed as a gross violation of their rights as human beings.

The "Macedonian problem" is a non-issue. Macedonia is a geographic concept and not an ethnic notion. In fact, only one country can identify herself, for historical reasons, with Macedonia. That country is Greece, which has been inextricably linked with Macedonia for more than 30 centuries.

I regret that it has been necessary to expand in such detail regarding the points raised by the distinguished delegate of Yugoslavia. But for us who know the history of South-eastern Europe and the political intricacies of the region, the Yugoslav statement is a familiar reminder of claims to our territorial integrity and constitute an unacceptable interference in our internal affairs.

We wonder what will be the future of our endeavours in the context of the CSCE in the hypothetical case where other countries would act in a similar way.

We believe that the Yugoslav Memorandum has provided us with an ominous example of how even the best intentions, as we have seen them here in Copenhagen over the past three weeks, can be manipulated in the service of extremist and adventurist policies.

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