De Varennes: 'Greece can do much more in the field of minority rights'
In the 12th episode of the online programme series of the Federation of Western Thrace Turks in Europe (ABTTF) titled "Facts in Our Country" broadcast on Wednesday, 1 February, the former United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Dr. Fernand de Varennes, who also visited Western Thrace in 2019, was the guest. De Varennes said that Greece can do much more in the field of minority rights.
In the programme moderated by Melek Kırmacı Arık, ABTTF International Relations Director, de Varennes answered the questions on the definition of "national minority" within the scope of international human rights law, the general situation of minority rights in Europe, the general situation in Greece regarding the protection of national minorities and the problems of the Turkish community in Western Thrace in Greece.
De Varennes stated that the issue of the definition of "national minority" is a bit complicated, noting that the UN refers to ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities and that the concept of "national minority" is used especially in Europe. Noting that ethnic identity is related to culture, de Varennes stated that the Turkish minority in Greece can be defined as an ethnic, linguistic and even religious minority.
Pointing out that there is unfortunately a regression in Europe in terms of respect for the rights of national minorities, de Varennes stated that at the UN level, minority rights are recognised as human rights and that the UN offers a stronger protection of minority rights than European mechanisms. Giving comparative examples from Europe, de Varennes said that the rights of the German minority in Italy are well protected, whereas minority rights are not recognised in France.
De Varennes underlined that Greece could do much more in the field of minority rights and stated that Greece could do much more and progress could be made in the areas of the Turkish community in Western Thrace electing their own religious leaders and education in their mother tongue Turkish. Pointing out that it is normal and useful to use European mechanisms to protect the rights of national minorities in Greece, de Varennes emphasised that it is also important to take UN mechanisms into account in this regard. De Varennes noted that the Greek government displayed a timid approach in utilising the EU mechanisms and therefore it is important for the Turkish community in Western Thrace to take into consideration the international mechanisms regarding minority rights.
Stating that the Greek government should move away from some fears that the protection of minorities would weaken the country, de Varennes advised the Greek government to approach the protection of minority rights from a positive perspective and not as a threat to national sovereignty but as a way of respecting minority members as equal citizens.
De Varennes pointed out that political intolerance is on the rise not only in Greece but also across Europe, noting that some politicians use nationalism to blame minorities, scapegoat them and portray them as a threat.
Stating that it is important to become much more visible and effective in lobbying activities and that it sometimes takes a lot of effort but success comes in the end, de Varennes emphasised that the way minority rights are perceived needs to be changed, that we are currently going through a very difficult and hostile period and that it is important to redouble efforts for this.
You can watch the entire programme in English, which was broadcast live simultaneously on ABTTF's YouTube channel and Facebook page, by clicking on the links below: