Letter: Free speech and human rights for all Macedonians in Greece

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The Independent Online
Sir: With reference to your articles on Greece (reports, 10-11 May), allow me to set the record straight: Macedonians are Greeks living in the northernmost province of Greece, called Macedonia. There are 2,263,099 Macedonians in Greece, as there are 536,980 Cretans and 1,077,003 Pelopenesians. Some Macedonians speak, parallel to Greek, a Slavic idiom. No matter. Language, on its own, is not criterion of ethnicity. These Greek citizens enjoy the full gamut of human rights in a country that in 1991 was rated 17th - immediately after the UK - on the scale of human freedom applied to 88 countries by the UN.

If, however, any bilingual Macedonians ever needed a 'champion', then Anastasia Karakasidou, presented as such by you, would hardly qualify for the job. She claims to be an honest anthropologist in search of truth, not a leader in search of followers.

Her unconfirmed working hypothesis is that the Greek authorities have, since 1913, undertaken the 'enculturation' of the slavophone Macedonians and thus deprived them of their alleged 'ethnic identity'. She is, of course, right to say that today most bilingual Macedonians consider themselves Greeks. There is no one to 'blame' for this.

People (including anthropologists from American universities) are free in Greece to feel what they like, say what they want and even publish and be damned. This has been proved once more, and quite dramatically, at the last elections. When a local eccentric, one A. Boules, decided to test the waters, run for parliament and become the recognised chief of a slavophone community in Greece, he polled at the general elections of 10 October 1993 exactly 369 votes.

Now this number is certainly not representative of the bilingual Macedonians living in Greece. However, Mr Boules and company, maverick leaders of 369 voters, have been misled to believe that they represent a minority, even an 'oppressed' one; and that as a result of this newfound status, they can enjoy internationally sanctioned privileges and immunities. This is not the case and it is sad that the Independent may have reinforced them in their delusions.

As Greek citizens these people are free to come and go as they please - even to the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, where they have influential friends - but if the Greek authorities wish to search them at the border they can do so without violating anybody's human rights. They are safe under Greek law, but if a local prosecutor thinks they have committed an offence, they will face trial as anybody else. The government has no say in this matter.

What a pity that your correspondent did not mention the total freedom of movement enjoyed by Ms Karakasidou in pursuing her extensive fieldwork on a sensitive issue and chose instead to highlight the threats against her person by extremist elements. She can rest assured that the Greek authorities will do their utmost to protect her.

Greece is a state of law where both anthropologists and the gutter press are free to research and publish. As for the job prospects of academics in Greece, to answer your correspondent's last point, those among them who manage to convince their peers of the quality of their work make good careers. The government once again plays no part in this procedure and certainly does not vet anybody for her opinions.

Allow me to point out that reporting on minorities is a most taxing job. Serious mistakes are made even by experienced human rights bodies. Had your correspondent taken into account the Greek government's views and the scholarship that exists on this delicate matter, he would have been able to present a much more balanced picture in the best traditions of Independent reporting.

Yours sincerely,

ELIAS GOUNARIS

Ambassador

The Greek Embassy

London, W11

12 May

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