Australian Government announces policy shift and recognises Macedonian community


The Australian Macedonian Human Rights Committee (AMHRC) is pleased to announce that after a sustained lobbying campaign, the Australian Government has finally withdrawn its discriminatory and racist "Slav Macedonian" Directive which renamed the Macedonian community in 1994.


In a letter dated 9 January 2012, the Acting Chief of Staff to the Minister for Foreign Affairs wrote:

"I can reaffirm that the 'Slav Macedonian' Administrative Circular is no longer operative in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). As is standard practice with inoperative Administrative Circulars, it has been cancelled and the document archived. Similarly, DFAT has advised me that the 'Slav Macedonian Directive' is not in use in other agencies, including the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and the Australian Bureau of Statistics."

The Department of Immigration and Citizenship also confirmed this position in a subsequent letter to the AMHRC on 11 January 2012:

"As stated by...[the] acting Chief of Staff to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, I can confirm that this department does not actively use the term 'Slav-Macedonian'. For example, the Translating and Interpreting Service National now only uses the term 'Macedonian'. We acknowledge the concerns of the Macedonian Australian community in relation to this matter."

This victory marks the end of a significant and long-running campaign by the AMHRC to gain governmental acceptance of the Macedonian community's right to self-identification. The campaign began in 1994, and saw hearings before the High Court of Australia, the Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission and the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade. Its culmination was recently reached after an intensive series of exchanges, involving meetings and correspondence, with senior Cabinet Ministers (including the Prime Minister), members of parliament from all political parties and various Government Departments.

The Australian Government's announcement of the official end to its offensive nomenclature policy marks a return to the long successful policy of Multiculturalism, a position the AMHRC has long advocated. This is a victory that will be beneficial to the maintenance of the human rights of all Australians.

Whilst the AMHRC is pleased with the Australian Government's current shift in policy toward the Macedonian Community, it now reiterates its call upon the Government to take the next logical step and recognise the Republic of Macedonia under its official and democratically chosen name.

Media Liaison:

  • Jason Kambovski – 0414 640 916 (English language media)
  • Dr Chris Popov – 0409 107 848 (Macedonian language media)

CHRONOLOGY: HOW THE “SLAV MACEDONAN” POLICY CAME TO AN END

1994 – Macedonian Community in Australia officially renamed

In February 1994, Australia recognised the Republic of Macedonia under the provisional reference “the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”.

In March 1994 the Australian Federal Government issued a Directive officially requiring all government agencies to re-name Macedonians residing in Australia, to “Slav Macedonians”. This applied to all those people whose ancestry was linked to the Republic of Macedonia. While all other members of the Macedonian ethnic community of Australia who had come to this country from the parts of Macedonia located outside the borders of the Republic of Macedonia (e.g.: in Greece) were required by the Directive to be referred to as “individuals associated with Slav-Macedonians”. The Australian government had effectively taken away their right to possess an ethnic identity.

1994–2000 Victorian Government officially renames Macedonian language to “Macedonian (Slavonic)”

In July 1994 sighting the Federal Government’s renaming of the Macedonian Community, a Directive was issued by the former Premier of Victoria, Mr Jeff Kennett. The “Language Directive” as it became known, required any official Victorian State Government reference to the Macedonian language to take the form of “Macedonian (Slavonic)”.

In response to the language directive, the AMHRC lodged a claim with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) which challenged the Victorian Government's directive on the grounds that it was discriminatory and racially based. After subsequent hearings before the Federal Court, Full Federal Court and High Court of Australia, the matter returned to HREOC.

Commissioner Street of HREOC handed down his decision on 8 September 2000 declaring that the Victorian Government had engaged in conduct rendered unlawful by section 9 (1) of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) by the act of issuing the directive in the terms of the memorandum dated 21 July 1994 which involved a distinction based on ethnic origin in re-naming the language Macedonian and had the effect of impairing the recognition on an equal footing of a human right in the cultural life of users of the Macedonian language and I declare that the Victorian Government not continue such unlawful conduct.

1995-2010: Implementation of policy

Despite repeated protests and objections by the AMHRC and other members of the Macedonian community, successive federal governments maintain the “Slav Macedonian” policy.

February 2011: AMHRC reiterates demand for official withdrawal

The Australian Macedonian Human Rights Committee (AMHRC) writes to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship seeking a formal withdrawal of the discriminatory and offensive “Slav Macedonian” policy.

11 May 2011: Minister shifts responsibility

In return correspondence to the AMHRC, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship claimed that, the Directive “is a matter that falls within the portfolio responsibilities of the Minister for Foreign Affairs”.

6 June 2011: Foreign Affairs Department avoids answering questions on policy

In correspondence to the AMHRC on behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Director of the Southern Europe branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs affirms the maintenance of the Government’s “Slav Macedonian” policy, but claims that he is “unaware of the extent and nature of its use across Commonwealth agencies.”

23 June 2011: AMHRC makes FOI Request for Documents

Frustrated by the lack of government transparency on this issue, the AMHRC submits a Freedom of Information Request under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 to demand documents evidencing the implementation of the “Slav Macedonian” Directive. Upon obtaining such documentation the intention of the AMHRC was to launch a legal racial discrimination claim against the government, as it had already successfully done against the Victorian government for renaming the Macedonian language.

10 July 2011: Foreign Affairs Minister shifts responsibility

In response to previous correspondence from a fellow government Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs claims that, “the 1994 “Slav Macedonian directive” was issued by the then-Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and that accordingly, we may wish to contact his colleague, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, on this matter.

12 July 2011: Immigration Department shifts responsibility...again

A Government Minister receives correspondence from the Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs shifting responsibility for the Directive back to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade by claiming that, “The 1994 Directive in relation to the term ‘Slav-Macedonian’ cannot be rescinded, as it is subordinate to the Australian Government’s foreign policy relating to the country name.”

18 August 2011: AMHRC appears before Parliamentary Sub-Committee

Representatives of the AMHRC appear before the Joint Parliamentary Sub-Committee on Human Rights in Parliament House Canberra, discussing a range of human rights issues including the “Slav Macedonian” Directive.

22 September 2011: FOI Request outcome exposes government’s policy

Under the Freedom of Information Act, dozens of documents are released to the AMHRC. While parts of the released documents were redacted, what was disclosed was quite revealing. For example, according to the Department’s own advice, “[a]though the 1994 directive has not been suspended, in practice Commonwealth agencies have moved away from using the term “Slav-Macedonian” (Ministerial Submission 09-1054, 26/05/2009).

The Department noted that “[because] it is not being implemented consistently and because it causes offence to the Macedonian community there is a case for reviewing the directive” (Ministerial Submission 09-1054, 26/05/2009). DFAT officials also concede that “Slav Macedonian” is a “horrible piece of terminology” and that it “could easily be incorrect (and consequently considered offensive)" (email from Southern Europe Section 10/01/2006).

Furthermore the documents revealed that in addition to the Macedonian ethnic group, the directive is also offensive to other ethnic groups from the Republic of Macedonia. In fact the advice noted that “[b]eyond taking offence, these other groups would consider it inaccurate to be called ‘Slav-Macedonian’ for nationality purposes” (Ministerial Submission 09-1054, 26/05/2009).

On several occasions the Government has claimed that “the term ‘Slav Macedonian’ is in no way meant to be considered an ethnic identifier”. However in 2006, a DFAT official from the Southern Europe Section admitted that the “term ‘Slav Macedonian’ is essentially an ethnic indicator” (Attachment B – Email from Southern Europe Section 10/01/2006).

6 October 2011: AMHRC demands official withdrawal of policy

The AMHRC writes to the Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship presenting the evidence from the Freedom of Information Request and demands a formal withdrawal of the “Slav Macedonian” Directive and an acceptance of the right to self-identification of the Macedonian Community in Australia.

9 November 2011: AMHRC meets with Prime Minister and government ministers

Representatives of the AMHRC continue their lobbying efforts and meet with the Prime Minister of Australia and other government Ministers in the context of the Community Cabinet day held in Werribee, Melbourne.

9 January 2012: Australian Government finally announces withdrawal “Slav Macedonian policy”

On behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Acting Chief of Staff to the Minister for Foreign Affairs wrote to the AMHRC:

“I can reaffirm that the ‘Slav Macedonian’ Administrative Circular is no longer operative in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). As is standard practice with inoperative Administrative Circulars, it has been cancelled and the document archived. Similarly, DFAT has advised me that the ‘Slav Macedonian Directive’ is not in use in other agencies, including the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.”

11 January 2012: Government confirms official use of ‘Macedonian’ for the Macedonian community in Australia

The Department of Immigration of Immigration and Citizenship also confirmed the above position in a subsequent letter to the AMHRC:

“As stated by...[the] acting Chief of Staff to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, I can confirm that this department does not actively use the term ‘Slav-Macedonian’. For example, the Translating and Interpreting Service National now only uses the term ‘Macedonian’. We acknowledge the concerns of the Macedonian Australian community in relation to this matter.”



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