On 27 March 2009, the Australian Macedonian Human Rights Committee held a successful human rights conference with special guests Dimitri Ioannou and Nace Parisis from Vinozito and Stojko Stojkov from OMO „Ilinden“ Pirin. Also present were representatives of Macedonian organisations from across Australia and various media outlets.
Individual presentations were given by Dimitri Ioannou and Stojko Stojkov, in which they addressed past successes, present strategies, and future goals of their respective organizations towards obtaining human rights for the ethnic Macedonian minorities in both Greece and Bulgaria.
Mr Ioannou began by speaking about the current state of the ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece, and said that the situation, as it stands today, is still grossly inadequate. The basic human rights of Macedonians within Greece are still being ignored and negated. Whilst the former methods of torture and harassment are no longer being implemented, he said, instead they have been replaced by more sophisticated measures of suppression, but inevitably resulting in the same denials and assimilationist outcomes, whereby the culture, language and all other freedoms are denied to the ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece. Mr Ioannou stated that Greece continues to assert 19th century ideologies and thinking in the contemporary world, in complete contradiction of current day norms and standards on human rights. This was recently confirmed in a report by the United Nations Independent Expert on Minorities, Ms Gay McDougal.
In terms of the organization of Vinozito, Mr Ioannou contended that there is no longer a climate of fear. Young Macedonians are more willing than ever to volunteer and contribute to the organization. On the way is the formation of smaller regional offices across Greece. Mr Ioannou also emphasised Vinozito’s integration into European and International institutions, which has enabled better communication of the problems being confronted by the ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece.
Indeed, at the moment Greece is in a state of „panic“, Mr Ioannou exclaimed, due to various international bodies and individuals releasing a range of reports in which injustices towards the Macedonian minorities in Greece are being publicized. We must use this opportunity, it was said, and we must work harder in order to get the message across.
Future strategies were said to include better education of the younger Macedonian population in Greece regarding the Macedonian issue; formation of cultural committees and events to promulgate an atmosphere in which Macedonians will be able to embrace their own culture within Greek borders; better cooperation with the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages (EBLUL); and various other tactics as a means to better the minority situation in Greece.
Mr Stojko Stojkov presented the problems of the ethnic Macedonian minority in Bulgaria. It seems Macedonians are facing many of the same hardships in Bulgaria as they are in Greece. According to Mr Stojkov in Bulgaria, like Greece, there is an outright refusal to recognize the existence of ethnic Macedonians. This is accentuated by the economic insecurity existing within the region, which is being used as a means by which to oppress Macedonians and put them in fear of financial hardship. Some of the measures utilised by Bulgarian authorities to negate the Macedonian minority are somewhat more crude, such as a denying ethnic Macedonians the right to organize Macedonian groups and committees, constant representations of Macedonians as being ‘traitors‘ of Bulgaria, and general misrepresentations of Macedonians in the media sphere.
However, Mr Stojkov reassured attendant guests that OMO Ilinden Pirin has made great progresses despite these obstacles. They have ensured that progress has been made to get OMO Ilinden Pirin registered as a political party within Bulgaria. Whilst, registration has been denied to them thus far, even in spite of their law suits in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg, Mr Stojkov still expressed optimism that they will succeed.
As part of their strategy to advance the cause of Macedonian human rights in Bulgaria, Mr Stojkov said that they will increase appearances on Bulgarian national television, have regular publications of Macedonian books, better education of younger members regarding the Macedonian issue, regular public gatherings, and other communication strategies to make the problem known throughout Europe and the International community at large. In the end, he too emphasized the importance not only of human rights activism within Bulgaria, but also the need for International support from other Macedonians.
Other speakers at the conference included Sasha Nackovski, Jason Kambovski, Vasko Nastevski and George Vlahov from the Australian-Macedonian Human Rights Committee (AMHRC).
Sasha Nackovski announced the Macedonian Government’s intention to launch legal action on behalf of the Deca Begalci (Macedonian Child Refugees), in which they will seek to have their human rights recognized by the Greek government. The organization of this legal action will be financially backed by the Government of the Republic of Macedonia. The lawsuit, Mr Nackovski said, is in the very early stages of organization, the first step being the formation of an expert committee in order to assess claims and formulate a legal strategy.
The AMHRC has been invited by the Macedonian Government to act as the intermediary body in Australia in order to gather evidence and assess claims, which they readily accepted. Their position on this movement, Mr Nackovski confirmed, is that they wish to proceed with an approach which will take into account a robust package of human rights to be returned to the Deca Begalci (including property return or reimbursement, the right of return to Greece, reinstatement of Greek citizenship, etc.) as opposed to the more limited idea of reimbursement for lost property only.
The AMHRC is planning to pursue this venture full heartedly with the support and cooperation of the Association of Macedonian Child refugees in Australia. The task, Mr Nackovski explained, will be a vigorous and time-consuming one.
Mr Jason Kambovski spoke about some of the successful legal proceedings undertaken by the AMHRC in Australia on behalf of the Macedonian Community. He also highlighted some possible future activities in this regard. Mr Kambovski further explained how the AMHRC is formalising communication between the Macedonian Community and the Australian Government, giving examples of various lobbying efforts and strategies used to achieve this.
Finally, Mr Vasko Nastevski and Mr George Vlahov appealed to the participants at the Macedonian Human Rights Conference and the broader Macedonian community for co-operation and support in order to strengthen and enhance the Macedonian Minorities Support Fund for Vinozito and OMO „Ilinden“ Pirin. By doing this, and aiding these groups, we will only be strengthening the organizations‘ abilities to achieve greater and more significant successes in the fight for Macedonian human rights. This is something that all Macedonians aspire to.
Media Liaison Officer
Australian Macedonian Human Rights Committee