Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page


Human Rights Developments

Human rights abuses in Greece involved freedom of speech, discrimination against minorities, physical abuse of detainees and prisoners, and violations of religious freedom.

A handful of free speech cases continued to be prosecuted and appealed during 1993. Minority issues were involved in six trials held in 1992 and 1993 against Greek citizens for the peaceful expression of their views. One case concerned two journalists who were found guilty of insult and sentenced to seven months in prison for a column about the "non-Greekness" of the Turkish minority in western Thrace. The other five cases, some dating from 1992, concerned speech about the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYRM), or members of the Macedonian minority in Greece. The subject of FYRM was extremely sensitive and emotional in Greece. The Greek government objected to the use of the world "Macedonia" to describe the former Yugoslav republic, since "Macedonia" is also the name of a region in northern Greece. A temporary compromise was reached in April 1993, when the republic was admitted to the U.N. under the temporary name "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia."

The five prosecutions of dissenters involving "Macedonia" were based on publicly expressed opinions that conflicted with the views of the Greek government. None of the defendants was charged with violent acts or other criminal behavior. The five cases were:

· Five Trotskyites were charged with "spreading false information and rumors that might cause anxiety and fear to citizens and disturb international relations with Greece," and "inciting citizens to rivalry and division leading to disturbance of the peace." Their alleged crimes was to produce a pamphlet of nine short essays on "The Crisis in the Balkans: The Macedonian Question and the Working Class." On May 7 an Athens court acquitted all five after a week-long trial. On May 12 the public prosecutor's office appealed the verdict.

· In May, two Macedonian minority activists were sentenced to five months in prison anda fine of 100,000 drachmas (about $435) for telling Ena magazine that they "feel Macedonian," and for claiming that there are one million Macedonians in Greece. They were convicted of spreading false information about the non-Greekness of Macedonia, and with instigating conflict among Greek citizens by differentiating between speakers of a Slavic language and Greeks. The case was on appeal as of November.

· In May 1992, four members of an anti-nationalist group were convicted for distributing a leaflet calling for peace in the Balkans and opposing the Greek government's foreign policy and policy toward minorities. They were charged with spreading false information and attempting to incite citizens to violence or dissension, and for disturbing friendly relations with another country. The case was on appeal during 1993.

· A seventeen-year-old high school student was convicted in December 1992 for distributing a leaflet saying, "Alexander the Great: War Criminal; Macedonia belongs to its people." He was charged with attempting to incite division among citizens and disturbing the peace. His appeal was pending during 1993.

· Six members of an Organization for the Reconstruction of the Communist Party were convicted in January 1992 of defaming authorities, inciting citizens, dividing the community and illegally posting bills that read: "No to patriots. Recognize Slav-Macedonia." Sentenced to six-and-a-half months in prison, the men's cases were on appeal through 1993.

All of these prosecutions violated free expression rights guaranteed by international law.

The Greek government discriminated against ethnic minorities, including the ethnic Turks in western Thrace. Some significant improvements had been made since Helsinki Watch's first report in 1990 on the plight of the ethnic Turks: in 1993 ethnic Turks could buy, sell and repair houses and property; repair mosques; start small businesses; and obtain car, truck and tractor licenses. However, serious problems remained. Many ethnic Turks were deprived of their citizenship, and others were harassed by police. Associations and schools could not call themselves "Turkish." Turkish-language newspapers, books and magazines could not be imported from Turkey. Ethnic Turks faced discrimination in state employment and in the provision of municipal services. Problems in education included a lack of competent Turkish-language teachers and Turkish-language books, and insufficient secondary schools for ethnic Turkish students. Freedom of religion problems included the selection of muftis, the religious leaders of the Muslim community, and control of the wakfs (charitable foundations). The Turkish minority objected strongly to the state's appointment of its muftis, and elected its own; the dispute was unresolved. As to the wakfs, the ethnic Turks objected to the state's control of their charitable foundations.

Ethnic Turks were recognized as a minority by the Greek government, which referred to them, however, only as "Muslims." Associations were forbidden to use the word "Turkish" in their titles.

The Macedonian minority was not recognized as a minority. Authorities denied that a Macedonian minority existed or that a Macedonian language was spoken in northern Greece. Macedonian activists claimed that there were one million Macedonians in Greece; Greek authorities claimed that there was only a small group of "Slavophone" activists. Macedonian activists were followed, harassed by police, frequently refused state employment, and prosecuted for free speech offenses. They were not allowed to establish schools to teach the Macedonian language, and their children could not be educated in Macedonian in state schools.

Reliable reports, including those of Amnesty International, indicated that detainees andprisoners were physically abused. Reliable reports also indicated that religious freedom was under attack. Government permission was required (and often denied) to establish any sort of house of worship. Jehovah's Witnesses were reportedly harassed, and their ministers jailed for draft evasion in spite of laws stating that ministers (including Jehovah's Witnesses) were not subject to the draft. Helsinki Watch has not yet investigated these allegations.

The Right to Monitor

Greeks attempting to monitor human rights abuses are harassed. For example, in looking at the problems of the Macedonian minority, monitors are called "agents of Skopje," followed, and sometimes refused access to government officials. Outside organizations are allowed to monitor human rights, but their delegations in Greece are routinely followed. Helsinki Watch missions to both western Thrace and the Western Macedonian province have been openly and regularly followed.

U.S. Policy

Greece remained an important U.S. ally. In 1993, it received $315 million in military loans and $265,000 in military grants. In its 1992 country report, the State Department listed a series of human rights abuses in Greece: ill-treatment of detainees and prisoners; abuse of illegal aliens; restrictions on freedom of speech, association and religion; revocation of citizenship of Greek citizens who are not ethnic Greeks; discrimination against Gypsies; and violence against women. However, the Clinton administration has made no public efforts to persuade the Greek government to change its practices.

The Work of Helsinki Watch

Helsinki Watch's strategy for its work in Greece involved publicizing the government's human rights abuses; trying to persuade the Greek government to effect change (which was successful in regard to the Turkish minority); seeking to influence the international community and the U.S. government to persuade the Greek government to live up to international standards and agreements to which it is a state party.

Helsinki Watch's work in Greece during 1992 focused on three areas: free expression and the treatment of the Turkish and Macedonian minorities. In 1993, Helsinki Watch and the Fund for Free Expression sent a mission to Greece and issued a newsletter titled "Greece-Free Speech on Trial: Government Stifles Dissent on Macedonia" (July). Also, in July, a mission was sent to northern Greece to examine the problems of the Macedonian minority; a report was planned for early 1994.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page