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COMMUNITY NEWS

New Members

The Society warmly welcomes the following new members:

George I. Topala Munster, IN
Peter S. Zegras Southport, CT
Tami Topalu Richmond, VA
Marius Vertan Schaumburg, IL
Lara Lazar Easton, CT
Peter Profesta Brooklyn, NY
Alexander Profesta Brooklyn, NY

We are omitting other community news in this issue in order to feature some background information on the case of Sotiris Bletsas, an Aromanian in Greece, who was sentenced to jail for asserting the existence of the Aromanian language.

The following documents were taken directly from a special issue web site established by the Greek Helsinki Balkan Human Rights Group and can be viewed at: http://www.greekhelsinki.gr/bhr/english/special_issues/aromanians.html
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Resolution by the Council of the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages
(extracted from http://www.eblul.org/gp/resolution-en.zip)

In its meeting in Dublin on 3 February 2001,

Having been informed that the Court of Justice in Athens sentenced Mr. Sotiris Bletsas to 15 months of imprisonment for "dissemination of false information", where the alleged false information consisted of the factual existence of a language (Vlach) included in the European Commission's Euromosaic report;

Stressing that Mr. Bletsas only distributed informative material on minority languages in Europe, produced by the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages, and financed by the European Commission,

Expresses its deep concern at the court's decision, which appears to violate the fundamental right of freedom of expression guaranteed by the Greek Constitution as well as by the European Convention of Human Rights,

Expresses solidarity with Mr. Bletsas,

Delegates to the Board of Directors to adopt any further measure to safeguard the Bureau's initiatives as well as the right for minority language speakers to protect and promote their language in all EU member States.

From IFEX (International Freedom of Expression) at: http://www.ifex.org/alerts/view.html?id=8145
ACTION ALERT: Aromanian activist convicted for distributing EU leaflet on minority languages
Originator: Greek Helsinki Monitor (GHM)
Date: 2001-02-05
(GHM/IFEX) - GHM strongly condemns the conviction on 2 February 2001 of Sotiris Bletsas, a member of the Society for Aromanian (Vlach) Culture, to fifteen months in prison and a 500,000 drs. (app. US$1,400) fine for dissemination of false information (under Article 191 of the penal code). The charges were based on the fact that, in July 1995, he had distributed in an Aromanian festival a publication of the European Union's (EU) semi-official European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages (EBLUL - in which Bletsas was the Greek "observer"), which mentioned the minority languages in Greece (Aromanian, Arvanite, Macedonian, Pomak, Turkish) and in the other EU member states. His prosecution was triggered by charges pressed by conservative New Democracy Deputy Eugene Haitidis and, according to Bletsas, the prosecution's witnesses included the Aromanian mayor of Prosotsani (Northern Greece). The latter considered the reference to the Vlach language as a minority language defamatory to the Vlachs. Bletsas appealed the sentence and was set free pending the appeal. GHM considers the verdict obscurantist and a flagrant violation of freedom of expression. The organisation wonders why the Greek authorities have not prosecuted the authors of the publication, the EU and EBLUL, and/or those making it widely available in Greece, which include the EU delegation in Athens.

Background Information

Greece acknowledges the existence of only one religious minority, the "Muslims" of Thrace, and of their mother tongue, Turkish. Associations that reflect the existence of national minorities by using Macedonian or Turkish in their title have not been able to officially register, while members of the respective minorities have been prosecuted for making such claims. Moreover, as the vast majority of Aromanian or Arvanite (Albanian) speaking persons identify as Greeks, even references to these two languages as minority languages, let alone to the existence of respective linguistic minorities, have been repeatedly condemned, including by leaders of Aromanian or Arvanite associations. It may be characteristic that two newspapers ("Avghi" 3-2-01 and "Epohi" 4-2-01) and one organisation (the Network for Social and Political Rights, in "Avghi") who protested the verdict opted to mention that the EBLUL leaflet referred to Aromanian, Arvanite, Pomak and Turkish, thus silencing the reference to Macedonian (a third paper, "Eleftherotypia" 5-2-01 did not list the languages).

Moreover, on 28 June 2000, an international seminar on "Greece and the European Charter on Regional or Minority Languages," co-organised by the Council of Europe and the Greek Minority Groups Research Center (KEMO), was to be held in the amphitheater of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). Participants included the (Greek) president of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and representatives of the Council of Europe and the EU-sponsored EBLUL. It was supposed to be the conclusion of a controversial series of semi-restricted seminars on Greece's minority languages. KEMO's membership includes many regular or occasional experts of the MFA. The Greek foreign minister had already sent his opening message. A week before the seminar, four of the most senior leaders of the opposition New Democracy party tabled a parliamentary question, protesting that the seminar "leads to presenting as minorities either non-existent groups or people who do not wish to be treated as minorities". Soon after, the Greek MFA withdrew the authorisation for the use of its amphitheater, thus leading to the seminar's cancellation. Although the official reason given was "technical", potential participants not informed of the cancellation who went to the Foreign Ministry saw that the amphitheater was empty, hence available: the next day, another seminar was indeed held there (on the new ECRI report on Greece). Greece and Turkey are the only Council of Europe countries that have prevented such a seminar from being held. However, from 8 to 10 December, the "First International Conference on the Vlach-Speaking Hellenism" was organised at the University of Macedonia in Salonica, by the "Union of Vlach Scholars" under the auspices of the Ministry of National Defense. It received a message from President of the Hellenic Republic Costis Stefanopoulos, which stressed that "the Vlach-Speaking Greeks are an indivisible part of our ethnic entity and have contributed to the creation and development of the Greek State." The opening address was delivered by Minister of National Defense Akis Tsochatzopoulos. Recommended Action Send appeals to authorities: - condemning the verdict and the authorities' attitude as a violation of freedom of expression and an indication of acute intolerance towards minorities - asking for a condemnation of the verdict, a swift review of the trial and the quashing of the charges - asking that Greece abolish its intolerant policies towards minorities, acknowledge the presence of national and linguistic minorities, as well as sign and ratify the European Charter on Regional or Minority Languages, and ratify the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities it signed in 1997.

APPEALS TO:

George Papandreou
Foreign Minister
Athens, Greece
Fax: +30 1 36 81 433
E-mail: gpap@mfa.gr

Dimitris Reppas
Minister of Press and Information
Athens, Greece
Fax: +30 1 36 06 969

Professor Mihalis Stathopoulos
Minister of Justice
Athens, Greece
Fax : +30 1 77 55 835

Romano Prodi
President of EU Commission
E-mail: sg-info@cec.eu.int

Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

More Information:

For further information, contact GHM at P.O. Box 60820, GR-15304 Glyka Nera, Greece, tel: +30 1 347 2259, fax: +30 1 601 8760, e-mail: office@greekhelsinki.gr, Internet: http://www.greekhelsinki.gr

For a reaction from the Greek newspaper Eleftherotypia (10/2/2001), visit the following Internet address: http://www.iospress.gr/mikro2001/mikro20010210.htm


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