Nationalist Greece muzzles dissidents (CORRECTED)

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The Independent Online
CORRECTION (PUBLISHED 18 AUGUST 1993) APPENDED TO THIS ARTICLE

GREECE is cracking down on citizens who publicly challenge the government's hard line on Macedonia and is pressing ahead with a series of extraordinary criminal prosecutions of dissenters.

Even criticising the long-dead Alexander the Great can get Greeks into trouble. A newspaper columnist, Michail Papadakis, who called Alexander a 'miserable slayer of people' has two legal cases pending against him. He has been called a 'national traitor' by the general secretary of the ruling New Democratic Party,

The severity of the government's crackdown against Greeks claiming Macedonian heritage and against the artists who have publicly supported them, is proving a deep embarrassment to the country's European Community partners. Athens has further annoyed the EC by tarnishing its reputation for tolerance of political dissent. The naming of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which borders Greece, could spell greater trouble. Athens remains unhappy about it because its northern province is also called Macedonia.

On arrival at Athens airport, the visitor is confronted by a series of posters proclaiming in English that 'Macedonia was, is, and will be Greek'. For Greeks who dare to offer a contrary view or suggest the country's Balkan neighbours are not necessarily its enemies, the result can be stiff fines and a lengthy jail sentence.

None of those prosecuted under Greece's draconian penal code has been charged with violent acts or other criminal behaviour, and the human rights group Helsinki Watch says the trials are violations of the basic right to freedom of expression, protected under international law.

In one case two Macedonian minority activists, Christos Sideropoulos and Tasos Boulis, were sentenced to five months in prison and a fine of 100,000 drachmas ( pounds 390 pounds) for telling Ena magazine that they 'feel Macedonian'.

More damaging from the government's point of view was their claim that there are one million Macedonians in Greece. That would put them at about 10 per cent of the population, a clearly unacceptable situation given that Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis claimed recently that 'We are the only Balkan country not to have minorities. The small Muslim community in Thrace has full rights.'

In September, an Athens court will hear an appeal by four members of an anti-nationalist group, convicted and sentenced to 19 months in prison last year for distributing a leaflet entitled Our Neighbours are not our Enemies. No to Nationalism and War.

Although the leaflet called for peace in the Balkans and criticised Greece's policies towards ethnic minorities, the four were charged with diseminating false information, attempting to incite acts of violence, and disturbing friendly relations with another country.

Not content with those convictions, the public prosecutor is said by Helsinki Watch to be preparing a case against the 169 artists and intellectuals who signed a petition on behalf of the four, who are out of jail on appeal.

CORRECTION

The political columnist in Greece being harassed by the government for insulting Alexander the Great is Takis Michas and not Michail Papadakis as was reported on 16 August.

Mr Papadakis, a student, has already been convicted and sentenced to one year in prison for distributing pamphlets calling Alexander a 'war criminal'. Mr Michas still has two legal cases pending against him.

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