A four-member mission of Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Right Group
-Greece visited Florina between 19/5
- 22/7/96 in order to attend a cultural festival organized in the commune of Meliti, on the occasion of the
celebration of Prophet Elias. During this visit, meetings with the authorities of the area, with members of the
minority party "Rainbow", as well as with the prefect of Florina, Traianos Petkanis, took place.
The festival of Meliti is organized by the president of the commune
as well as the cultural association of Meliti and
includes formal and informal festivities. Cultural associations of the area take part in the formal program with
dance shows, accompanied by instrumental music. The formal program take place in the yard of the village school.
The public festivities that follow consist the informal program and took place in the small village square, since
there was no permission by the president of the commune to use a larger place. The fact that there was no effort by
the local authorities to prevent the informal festivities from taking place is particularly noteworthy and positive.
Police presence was particularly discrete and no incident was caused. On this occasion, the members of the minority
were able to dance and sing their songs in the Macedonian language undisturbed. As a comparison we have the
experience of previous years, when the festival's place was surrounded by police forces ready to intervene. It should
also be noted that, during the mission of our organizations in the festival of Meliti and the area of Florina in
general, in 1993, the members of our mission were being watched closely by state services, something that didn't
seem to happen during this year's festival.
During the informal events, songs have been heard in Macedonian about
a proud Macedonia, a proud Macedonian
identity. The participation of the residents was particularly large and spontaneous, declaring in this way their
differentiation, with respect to their cultural, if not national, identity.
The biggest problem occurred at the border, when a group of 29 young
dancers from Canada, of Macedonian origin,
was prohibited from entering the country. The prohibition, as we were told, was based on the article 6 par. 5 section
e of the law 1975/91 concerning foreigners. The police in the border check-point of Niki used the particular extract
according to which "entry of a foreign citizen in Greek territory is prohibited in case the purpose of his visit is to
undertake any labor activity or business activity or self-employing professional activity without having
authorization of the consulate which granted the visa, which should include specifically the data of the relevant
permission". We think that the law concerning immigrants should not be applied to a cultural association coming to
take part to cultural festivities. After a long harassment and following the intervention of our organizations, a
simple permission of tourists' entry was granted and the dancers entered the country with no uniform and with the
obligation not to dance.
Moreover, permission to enter the country was not given to Steve Pliakes,
citizen of Canada and born in the village
Sklithro, Florina, because of his activities on Macedonian minority issues abroad -as he estimates. On the contrary,
his wife Lilly Pliakes, also citizen of Canada and born in Andartico, Florina, was allowed to enter the country. We
believe that the existence of a "black list of beliefs" as a basis for permitting or not the entry of foreign citizens
insults a country that wants to be considered democratic.
During our visit to the prefect Traianos Petkanis we brought up issues
concerning the return of political refugees,
the teaching of the Macedonian language, and problems facing the minority party. The prefect thinks that the issue
of political refugees can certainly be discussed, but its solution is not within the authority of the prefectural
administration. He also thinks that the preservation of cultural elements of the area, including language, is
significant. However, he feels that language teaching should not be introduced in schools, in order not to
"characterize" the minority, as it has been the case in the past, and he suggests the creation of an Institute to register
the language. Moreover, the prefect rejects the term minority and believes that public participation in the informal
festival of Meliti does not consist an indication of a different identity.
His explanation on the votes gained by "Rainbow" during the Euro-elections
in 1994 is that they are protest votes
that do not indicate a different national identity either, in spite of the party's relative declarations. In relation with
the issue of burning down the "Rainbow" party offices because of the posting of a bilingual sign in Greek and in
Macedonian with Cyrillic letters, he stated that he does not approve of "angry citizens'" actions but, at the same
time, he considered the sign a provocation, since the Cyrillic alphabet has never been used by the residents of the
area and nobody could read it. However, the existence of newspapers with Cyrillic letters in the period of the
resistance and of the civil war is evidence contradicting his argument. Besides, throughout the world, linguists
believe that the Cyrillic alphabet is the one that expresses the Macedonian language and its dialects in writing.
Finally, we pointed out to him that the phrase "Out with the Slavs"
was written on school walls and elsewhere. He
assured us that there are strict orders for these phrases to be erased immediately.
Our organizations believe that the Greek state should finally recognize
the Macedonian minority in Greece. They
should allow her members to form associations. They should grant the right of return - and certainly the right to
simple visits- to all (Slavo)Macedonian political refugees. Finally, they should include the Macedonian language in
those that can be taught in "inter-cultural" schools to be founded, as the European Union encourages Greece to do
for Arvanitika, Vlachika, and Pomakika. It is high time to stop treating the minority Greek citizens with suspicion,
which we had the opportunity to find out during our visit to Florina.
Panayote Elias DimitrasSpokesperson
Greek Helsinki Monitor & Minority Rights Group - Greece
P.O. Box 51393
GR-14510 Kifisia Greece