HomeFrontpage NewsCivil Rights UMD Open Letter to President Barack Obama re: Visit to Greece

UMD Open Letter to President Barack Obama re: Visit to Greece

The President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20500

Re: A Far Cry From Plato’s Republic – Justice Denied for Macedonia and for Greek Citizens of Macedonian Ethnicity

Dear Mr. President:

I write to you on behalf of the United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD), a leading organization representing U.S. citizens, and others, who care deeply about matters that affect Macedonia and people of Macedonian ethnic identity. This letter is in light of your ongoing European farewell trip that includes a visit to Greece.

In announcing your visit, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest stated that Greece is “the birthplace of democracy” and has “done so much to deliver peace and prosperity to Europe and the wider world.” We disagree with this statement, for it disregards the countless atrocities and hardships that Greece has perpetrated against Macedonians and other minorities living within its borders. Its reprehensible conduct is devoid of anything representing the birthplace of civilized society.

The Greek government dislocated and forcibly removed tens of thousands of ethnic Macedonians from their homes during the Greek Civil War. And, in the decades that followed, many tens of thousands more left Greece due to the economic and social repression perpetuated by Greek civil and military authorities. To date, the Greek government continues to deny these individuals their rights to reclaim their citizenships or private property – all because they self-identify as Macedonians.

Unashamedly, the Greek government continues to violate numerous European Conventions on Human Rights with respect to the sizeable Macedonian minority in northern Greece. Ms. Gay McDougall, who served as the first United Nations Independent Expert on Minority Issues, visited Greece and, in her 2009 report to the U.N., urged Greece to acknowledge its perfidy against the Macedonian minority within its borders and work towards rectifying their issues and provide them genuine human rights.

According to the U.S. Department of State, there are at least nine religious minorities in Greece facing significant violations of their religious freedom. These groups include: Macedonian Christian Orthodox followers, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Scientologists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, evangelical Christians, and other Protestants. Greece has not and will not grant basic human rights to its own minority communities within the country.

A prime example of the religious rights abuse toward the Macedonian Orthodox Christian minority is Archimandrite Nikodim Tsarknias, a monk of the Macedonian Christian Orthodox faith, who was an ordained member of the Greek Orthodox Church from 1973 to 1991. After disclosing his Macedonian heritage in an attempt to halt Greece’s eradication of Macedonian religious customs, Archimandrite Tsarknias was excommunicated from the Greek Orthodox Church and declared a “national threat.” He was beaten, harassed, fined, and jailed, all in response to his advocacy for religious freedom for the Macedonian Orthodox Christian minority.

The Greek government aggressively targets the Macedonian minority through the Greek Orthodox Church – a state institution, as there is no separation of Church and State in Greece’s Constitution. In numerous sermons, Bishop Anthimos of Thessaloniki has denounced the Macedonian minority and has even encouraged violence toward them on National Greek TV. Anthimos called upon fellow Greeks to join him in Meliti, Greece to destroy a Macedonian language radio station. He uses his unique position to promote ethnic hatred and violence.

Greece’s treatment of Syrian refugees is another recent example of how it views minorities within its borders. No nation in the Balkans has been a greater recipient of EU funds than Greece to tackle the refugee issue. However, instead of using EU funds to set up shelters and register refugees, Greece shuffled them to the border with Macedonia, instigated problems, and sent them on their way north. This is not exemplary of the “birthplace of democracy.”

Mr. President, we urge you to impress upon Greece’s leaders to follow the recommendations of Ms. McDougall: To change their education system so that it does not pillory “others,” to recognize their Macedonian minority, and to extend an olive branch to their fellow Greek citizens who have a Macedonian identity. Ironically, it is up to us, Mr. President, to reintroduce democratic values and restore basic human rights for minorities in Greece.

As to Macedonia’s NATO membership, Greece and its leaders, particularly current President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, have been anything but helpful in their conduct with regard to building “good-neighborly relations” and a stable Balkans region – a key Trans-Atlantic objective. In fact, Greek President Pavlopoulos’s recent anti-Macedonia tirades and xenophobic rhetoric provide little hope for NATO’s future there.

Greece’s continued contempt of Macedonia’s legitimacy and rightful name has gone on for far too long. Macedonia has met every requirement to join NATO via the Membership Action Plan (MAP) since 1999 and, at the 2009 Kehl-Strasbourg Summit, you stated that you “hope to one day see Macedonia join NATO”.

Mr. President, we have been patiently waiting at the altar, and we are still being stalled. Even though Macedonia is not yet formally a member of NATO, it has participated in the Partnership for Peace program, hosted the NATO Logistical Support Center for Kosovo Forces, and welcomed over 50,000 Bosnian refugees during early 90s and around 400,000 Kosovar refugees in 1999. Macedonia was the fourth largest per capita troop contributor to our ISAF mission protecting the tent of NATO while patrolling ISAF Headquarters in Afghanistan.

After blocking Macedonia at the 2008 NATO Bucharest Summit, Greece was brought before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In a fifteen-to-one opinion (with only the Greek judge dissenting), the ICJ judges rebuked Greece for violating the Interim Accord with Macedonia by preventing Macedonia from becoming a member of NATO. Nonetheless, Macedonia continues to be denied an invitation to join NATO.

Mr. President, we urge you to intervene without reservation and convince the Greek government to do what is necessary and exemplary of the “birthplace of democracy.” Persuade them to work with Macedonia to build a strong bilateral relationship under NATO that enhances the region’s future. Reason with them to ensure full human rights for all minorities, including the Macedonian minority.

As someone who has been declared a “Philhellene” – friend of Greece – please do not miss this opportunity to give some friendly advice to Greece about how it must change its ways.

Sincerely yours, in partnership and in liberty,

Metodija A. Koloski
President
United Macedonian Diaspora

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