Minority Participation in Public Life: The Case of Greece

By Kyriakou, Nikolas | Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE, July 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Minority Participation in Public Life: The Case of Greece


Kyriakou, Nikolas, Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE


Abstract

This article examines Greece's stance towards minorities in the light of the recent UN Report of the Independent Expert on Minority Issues regarding her mission to Greece. The epicentre of the paper is the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights in minority cases against Greece in which minority participation in public life and Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights are involved. The article concludes by supporting the idea of the necessity for a change of the current position maintained by Greece as regards the Macedonian and Turkish minorities living in Greece.

1. Introduction

On 18 February 2009 Gay McDougall, the UN Independent Expert on minority issues, submitted to the Human Rights Council her Report regarding her mission to Greece.1 In the Report's 'Conclusions and Recommendations. section, she found that Greece's interpretation of the term .minorities. was too restrictive to meet current standards and that the government should retreat from the dispute over whether there is a Macedonian minority or a Turkish minority and place its full focus on protecting the rights to self-identification, freedom of expression and freedom of association of those communities. She also called upon Greece to comply with relevant judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter, "ECtHR" or .Court.) and afford the requisite standard of protection to minorities pursuant to international law.2

The aim of the current paper is to examine the political participation of these two minorities in Greece. For the purposes of this paper "political participation. is understood in a broad manner, encompassing participation in the common domains of public life through the medium of associations and political parties. A central point of reference is the jurisprudence of the ECtHR which emanates directly from this geographical and conceptual framework. The paper does not intend to discuss all aspects of the minority issue within the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), but will try to sketch out the contemporary issues surrounding it, with a particular focus on Greece. Setting matters in historical perspective assists the examination of Greece's stance.

Starting from the interwar period I will take a "snapshot. of the League of Nations. minority protection arrangements and describe its main features and Greece's position within it. This will be followed by a brief presentation and commentary on three judgments of the ECtHR which cover a ten year time-span, from 1998 to 2008. The discussion will centre on Articles 11 (freedom of assembly and association) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination). It is these two Articles which contain the two main features of interest: the freedom of association as a "political" right and the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of association with a national minority.

The last part of this paper will lend support to the idea that there are interpretative tools available to the ECtHR to tackle minority issues. Against this backdrop, I will argue that Greece's current perception for and stance towards minorities is no longer sustainable for a series of legal and political reasons and that a radical change in its policies is needed.

2. The heritage of the League of Nations

Greece's attitude towards minorities has closely followed that of the international (legal and political) community: a highly changeable amount of attention being spent on this thorny issue. Notwithstanding the high homogeneity of its population, the Greek State has since its independence in 1830 dealt, in different historical periods, with minorities living within its borders. Minorities were, and continue to be, perceived by the State as a problem by definition. This is quite understandable in light of the various political turbulences, border resetting and irredentism in the Balkan Peninsula for most part of the 20th century. …

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