American Chronicle: „If you are going to mention minorities in Greece, make sure you take along your own handcuffs“

„Great audacity and courage was needed in terms of vetoing FYROM´s NATO admission“ – Greek PM Kostas Karamanlis on the veto.

„We didn´t actually veto Macedonia at NATO“ – Greece, earlier, to the International Court of Justice on the veto.

It would have been nice to be there to hear Karamanlis blow any chance he had of defending Greece’s NATO veto at the ICJ (International Court of Justice) out of the water. However, there are a number of reasons why I, although being a journalist, was not able to cover the Greek EU parliamentary elections last week. Part of it would be that my newspaper wouldn´t fly me there, but another equally limiting factor would be that I would not be allowed to ask real questions to Karamanlis, given the „press freedom“ that Greece enjoys. To be fair, many people may not be aware of this, but Greece does have considerable freedom of press – except on two issues. One is Macedonia and the other is the issue of minorities. So while Greece´s press may be quite free to much of their society and comparable to other European states – if you are an ethnic Macedonian in Greece, the press is more like Cuba or North Korea. It´s not like I could go up to the ´Dear Leader´ of the Peoples Democratic Republic of Greece and ask why as a Macedonian here in Greece, I can communicate with people in Macedonian, yet according to him, these Macedonians don´t exist. If I were to put a question like that to him, I am sure I´d be dragged away in some very unfashionable handcuffs.

Incidentally, as a travel tip for journalists going to Greece to cover minority issues, you might want to take your own handcuffs. Within a few seconds of mentioning the word ´minority´ you will end up in some horrible ‚Home-Brand‘ handcuffs or maybe even some ´Sklavenitis´ own-brand plastic prisoner tie. At least if you have your own that you cuff yourself with as you are being arrested for ´over-free speech´, you wont have the additional embarrassment of going home to have other journalists laughing at you for being slapped with the handcuff equivalent of a paisley bell-bottomed jumpsuit. You can generally find some like ASP Tacticals, Hiatt-Thompson 1010Cs, Peerless 850s or Smith and Wesson 100s in a range of colors that will match most outfits. Personally I go for Smith and Wesson 100s, they are the handcuff equivalent of Ray Ban Wayfarers – an eternal classic.

Other than being arrested for mentioning minorities, in Greece you can also be sued for not getting someone to shut up when they start criticizing the government. It´s true – if I go up to an Ethnic Macedonian and ask them what they thought of their treatment and if they were to start talking about having their language banned and their brother having his land confiscated, and I didn´t tell them to shut up, I could be sued! It has happened! A radio host called Nikitas Lionarakis was sued because an interviewee was criticizing a politician and Lionarakis didn´t cut the guy off. Does that sound like a free media to you? There are other examples of media repression.

In 2007 Greece passed a law that limits reporting on news to only approved organizations – and of course you are not allowed to broadcast in any other language than Greek. Of course! Greece said they have no minorities! What would they need minority language radio for? But you don´t need to be on radio to get harassed.

Last year a journalist, Dragan Micko Dado was jailed for videotaping a Macedonian wedding in Greece. I guess, as according to the Greek government, Macedonians don´t exist in Greece, he was jailed for video taping thin air. Video taping a big Macedonian wedding? If you´ve ever been involved with a big Macedonian wedding, you´d know the guy should be given a medal for valor or a Purple Heart medal or something for agreeing to do it. But you don´t even need to have a camera or be a journalist to be harassed in Greece.

Even speaking Macedonian in Greece can get you arrested! In 2007 some Australian tourists visiting Lerin (Florina) were detained because they were caught speaking Macedonian – and they are far from the only Diaspora Macedonians who get hassled by Greek police when speaking the original language of the Macedonian area. You don´t even have to be Macedonian to get slapped with this treatment.

Last year, Grigoris Valianatos, a Greek government official, was asked his opinion on the Macedonian issue on a TV show. He replied that he believed that there was a Macedonian minority in Greece. The TV host was shocked! Macedonians? In my Greece? Well, we know, outside of Greece this is not a big issue; Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the US State Department and the UN have all said there is a Macedonian minority in Greece that has been subject to persecution. So what happened to Grigoris for stating his personal belief? He lost his government job the next morning.

Two years ago Dora Grosomanidou, a Greek Diplomat who had responsibility for Macedonia stated to a reporter for the Financial Times that ‚Greece has to face the new reality, as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has been recognized under its constitutional name by more than half of the members of the United Nations.‘ That is true; Macedonia has been recognized by its constitutional name by around 130 countries out of about 195 nations on the planet. That 130 makes up most of the world´s population, most of the UN, 4 of 5 permanent Security Council members and most of the worlds economy. What Dora was stating is nothing surprising – but as a consequence she was recalled to Greece and sacked from her post.

Sounds like a police state right? Greece sounds just like George Orwell´s 1984, but with the inability to flush toilet paper. So given that you can get sued for interviewing the wrong person, lose your job for stating that you believe there are Macedonians in Greece, get jailed for filming Macedonians in Greece, get arrested for speaking Macedonian and get sacked from your nice ambassadorial job for stating what is obvious- you´d think the Greek government had the place pretty much under control right?. A nice well-ordered police state – like North Korea but with 5 Euro coffees.

Almost. Last week, a visiting professor from the University of Chicago came to Athens to help launch a dictionary. What was so upsetting about this dictionary was that it was a ´Greek to Macedonian´ dictionary. Just a dictionary, OK? The most boring book in the world, other than a phone book. Well obviously it upset a few people. A bunch of overweight Greek Neo-Nazis from the party Chrysi Avyi showed up and started destroying dictionaries and camera equipment. Well of course, the police were contacted and showed up as you´d expect. Given the fact that you get arrested for being a tourist and talking the wrong language – you´d expect the police to go the full ‚Rodney King‘ on a bunch of vandalizing Neo-Nazis, right?

Well not exactly. What did the police actually do? They sat outside the building and did absolutely nothing. No arrests were made for vandalism; they were not removed from the building by the police. No police came in to protect anyone. It appears the neo-Nazis left under the power of their own cowardice soon after the police had arrived, yet they really didn´t have to worry. This is not the first time that the neo-Nazi Chrysi Avyi have been ignored by the Greek police. There has been a long history of tolerance and even reports of cooperation with Chrysi Avyi by the Greek police. One can only assume that it will continue in the future. An environment where thugs can operate with what amounts to police sanction should not exist in Europe.

Welcome to Greece, where if you say you are a minority, or your report on minorities, you can get jailed; and if you attack minorities, the police will sit by and watch you do it.

by Aleksandra Aleksovska