Pangalos, the Torch-Bearer of the Greek Consensus Against National Minorities

Panayote Elias Dimitras

Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group - Greece
(26/12/1998, AIM Athens)

"There are people with some sensitivities, and they should have the right to be free, to have their offices, their newspapers, to have their language taught, to celebrate in their own way, to run in elections. When they feel they are not recognized or their rights have been violated, they could appeal to the European organizations which have henceforth coercive mechanisms and mandatory procedures for all of us." What a better definition of the existence of a minority, the need to respect its
fundamental rights, and the way to defend them, you would say. Right? Wrong! When Greek Foreign Minister Theodore Pangalos made this statement on
22 December 1998, during an official visit to Skopje, in response to a question about the need to recognize and to respect the rights of the Macedonian minority in Greece, he added squarely that "Greece will never recognize a Slavic minority in Western Macedonia."

Worse, he added insult to injury: "We should not return to Titoism and communism so as to create minorities for the benefit of some evil bureaucrats, and perverted intellectuals, including perverted journalists." He also repeatedly used pejorative if not slandering language for the Macedonian minority party "Rainbow". He characterized it "a coalition of Slavomacedonians, Stalinists and homosexuals that got 1,700 votes in the last elections." He added, later on, that Rainbow "took part in the elections forming alliances with the Organization for the Reconstruction of the Communist Party of Greece (OAKKE) which is Stalinist, and the Movement
for the Liberation of Homosexuals managing to obtain throughout Greece only 1,840 votes."

Given that Rainbow never took part in an election in coalition with an organization representing homosexuals, the above statement by Mr. Pangalos brought to memory similar attacks made by intolerant and nationalist circles towards human rights activists, independently of the clarifications the Minister resorted to later on. Besides, it must be reminded that Rainbow obtained in the 1994 European elections, in which it stood alone, 7,300 votes; and in the parliamentary elections of 1996, in coalition with OAKKE, 3,500 votes. Therefore, the figures presented by the Minister, who insisted they were official, were false. But, even if only 1,700 persons
claimed the right to a minority identity, the argument that they constitute a very small number in order to be recognized as a minority weakens decisively the demands of the Greeks of Turkey who, with the tolerance of successive Greek governments, have been reduced to 2,500 persons.

All these arguments proved once more to be of little importance not only to Mr. Pangalos but to all political forces, practically all media and almost all Greek non-governmental organizations (NGO) dealing with human rights. Mr. Pangalos’ statement was hailed as "the appropriate answer" (Vima 25/12/1998), "a tough but justified reaction" (Kathimerini 25/12/1998) to "the irredentist claims" (Ethnos 25/12/1998) of the Macedonian side. The fourth of the country’s largest newspapers even devoted two pages to "reveal" the "strategic alliance between Ankara and Skopje at the expense of Greece" (Typos tis Kyriakis 25/12/1998): to justify its arguments, it mentioned as real facts an -allegedly but never really- attempted alliance between "Rainbow" and the Turkish minority party "Friendship, Peace, and
Equality;" or the presence of representatives of the two minorities in a seminar in Germany, on 12/11/1998, alongside this author. But I was in Athens on that day! Never mind the truth, as yellow journalism has to make a case that these "perverted intellectuals" are working with the "alien" minority leaders against Greece’s interests!

There were two exceptions: one of the country’s five major newspapers (Eleftherotpyia 24/12/1998) and another, small in circulation but influential, daily (Avghi 24/12/1998) were the only ones to report the reactions to the minister’s statements by Rainbow, OAKKE and the NGOs Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group - Greece. However, even these two papers did not go as far as to criticize themselves the Pangalos’ statements. While no other Greek NGO and no one political party issued any statement, not even those actively campaigning during the same days for an alternative New Year’s Eve anti-racist celebration alongside the migrants and the refugees. Once again it was demonstrated that the human rights struggle has its limits for most Greeks: the country’s two national minorities, who identify themselves with the adjacent Macedonian and Turkish nations, are beyond these limits.

The "Skopje incident" was not the only one of this kind, in 1998. Five months earlier, the same Foreign Minister made similar statements against the Turkish minority, while visiting the Western Thrace area the latter lives in. It need be reminded that Greece does recognize that minority, but only as a religious Muslim one, while denying its Turkish national identity. There is hardly any human rights report as well as any statement by the three minority deputies (including the deputy of Pangalos’ PASOK party) that is not full of references to the many human rights violations in Thrace.

All these notwithstanding, Pangalos, on 26 July 1998, praised "the freedom that characterizes all aspects of everyday life of the Muslim minority" adding that "this is an achievement of all the people of Thrace and at
the same time a lesson to those who try to present themselves here as so-called protectors of human rights. I call upon them not to give lessons of democracy and human rights to Greece, when the whole political leadership of the country has paid with blood and exiles for these values while they know about human rights only from the books. (…) My presence here is a slap in the face to all these disgraceful slanderers, who do not dare say openly that they serve illicit financial interests and dealings while pretending to be human rights defenders in Thrace, whereas they forget the major and horrible crimes carried out at this very moment a mere few kilometers from here" [meaning in Turkey].

A month later, on 17 August 1998, the Speaker of the Parliament Apostolos Kaklamanis said he favored the "homogenization of the population of Thrace,
made up of Christina and Muslim Greeks." On 23 August he explained further that "there is no Turkish minority in Greece, as the Muslim minority of Thrace is made up of Greek citizens while Turkey is trying to ghettoize it and present it as a national minority."

In both cases, not one critical voice was raised by any political forces, while the media were again almost all praising the Pangalos statements. This time, even the minority stayed silent for a while, letting the Turkish foreign ministry respond to these statements. That, naturally, only helped strengthen the image of the minority in Greece as manipulated from Ankara, an impression that was to be further enhanced by the minority’s pro-Turkish reactions in the Ocalan problem in late 1998 (see related separate December 1998 AIM article by Nafsika Papanikolatos).

In our November 1998 AIM article, we were saying that "one should not misinterpret this turn of events in the Greek-Macedonian relations though; (…) the existence of a distinct legitimate nation of Macedonians has yet to be admitted. A major consequence of this situation are the continuing problems of the Macedonian minority in Greece. It would not be too simplistic to argue that the Interim Agreement and the ensuing improvement in the bilateral relations has hardly had any effect on that minority. In fact, many interpreted the "coincidence" of the signing of that Agreement in September 1995 with the sacking of the Macedonian minority "Rainbow" party’s offices in Florina as a clear indication that the minority should not expect anything out of it."

The Pangalos statements in Skopje and their ensuing almost unanimous approval in Greece confirmed, soon after that article was written, our evaluation of the (lack of) impact of the spectacular improvement in Greek-Macedonian relations on the status of the Macedonian minority in Greece. The -also negative- previous statements on the Turks of Thrace help explain the roots of the problem. Greek society and the vast majority of Greek intellectuals (including unfortunately most human rights defenders) have yet to come to terms with the fact that Greece is not a homogeneous society; that one can be a Greek citizen but have a non-Greek
ethnonational identity.

What the first lines of this article, when seen in conjunction with the following ones, indicate is that, for Pangalos as well as for almost all Greeks, Greek citizens can freely enjoy their cultural diversity as long as they have a strong Greek ethnonational identity and seek no minority status. This is how hundreds of thousands of Albanian-speaking Arvanites and Aromanian-speaking Vlachs have been "successfully" incorporated in (i.e. assimilated by) modern Greek national culture: they have been showing a strong, sometimes even extreme, degree of attachment to Greek nationalism, in exchange for which they have been allowed to keep their,
oral only but never written or taught, ethnolinguistic "sensitivities." It requires a very sustained effort for the few "multiculturalists" of Greece, which include even some government ministers, to dispel this ugly image of Greek "national" policy that can be summarized in a choice between assimilation or discrimination.



Regretfully, Th. Pangalos "recidivated" in an interview to "Apogevmatini"
(28/12/1998) by stating that those in Macedonia who say there is a Macedonian minority in Greece are "monkeys;" and he added: "I told them that a minority exists on the basis of international treaties or it is being shaped on the basis of such reality. Minority means a special legal framework; it means that a category of citizens is set aside from the others and you treat it differently. Such a minority does not exist in Greece. Because their number is not sufficient. I told them that "Rainbow"
is, according to their declaration, a coalition of Slavomacedonians, of Stalinists who want to restore the old communist party, and of homosexuals of the Gay Liberation Movement in Greece. In the elections they received 1,700 votes." Beyond doubt, the repetition of false information like the alleged participation of gays in "Rainbow" and that they received 1,700 rather than 3,500 votes in 1996 indicates that the Minister was deliberately deceiving his audience in Skopje as well probably in an effort to discredit the Macedonian minority activists.  One can only agree with the satirical (and otherwise nationalist) Greek weekly "Pontiki"
(30/12/1998): "it is incredible that, after all that, he remains foreign minister."

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