Rann's Unsatisfactory Response

Yesterday, Premier Rann's office released to the media a response to the complaint lodged by the Australian Macedonian Human Rights Committee (AMHRC) against the Premier at the Australian Human Rights Commission (the Commision), for discriminatory statements in reference to Macedonians. We consider Mr. Rann's response to be unsatisfactory. He claims that his criticisms were directed at the "incumbent President" of the Republic of Macedonia. However, this is not borne out by a reading of the transcript of his comments that he himself provided, nor, in any case, is it a valid defence.

His criticism of the President of the Republic of Macedonia was in reference to the utilisation of the symbol of Alexander the Great in a number of public projects. We do not agree with this as a valid criticism. The Premier must be aware that history and culture are selectively and abstractly constructed. Therefore he could not truly believe that the modern usage of Alexander the Great could in any way have constituted a "dangerous stirring up of trouble" as Premier Rann asserted. Comments like these could not have been delivered "in good faith" as the Premier Rann claimed in his response. Moreover, to place the naming of a highway, "Alexander the Great" in the same context as apartheid in South Africa as Mr. Rann does in his response, is ridiculously offensive - not just to the President or government of the Republic of Macedonia, but? to all those Macedonians who elected the current administration. Some of these individuals are also Australian citizens.

International Consequences

Mr. Rann claims in his response that he has long held an interest in international affairs, yet somehow he has always been strangely quiet when it comes to Greece's well documented human rights abuses against its Macedonian minority. Premier Rann claims that his views are "consistent with the criticisms also made by other European Union countries and the United Nations". Of course what he does not make clear is that the reference to "European Union countries" includes Greece. Why is this important? Because Greece has been a consistent human rights violator. For example, at the end of 2009, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, a European independent human rights monitoring body that specialises in questions relating to racism and intolerance, after excoriating Greece on its abysmal record in relation to human rights recommended that:

"... the Greek authorities take measures to recognize the rights of the members of the different groups living in Greece [including Macedonians], including to freedom of association, in full compliance with the relevant judgements of the European Court of Human Rights ... [Moreover], ECRI also strongly recommends that the Greek authorities take steps to recognize the right to self identification of these groups [ie: Macedonians]". (See European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, Fourth Report on Greece, Adopted on 2 April 2009, CRI (2009) 31, Strasbourg, 15 September 2009, para. 115 and 117.)

As to Premier Rann's reference to the United Nations, it is apt to here cite from the UN independent expert on minority issues, Gay McDougall, who also reported on Greece's aberrant human rights behaviour. For example, she states that:

"Successive governments have pursued a policy of denial of the ethnic Macedonian community and the Macedonian language ... The response of earlier Greek governments was to suppress any use of the Macedonian language and cultural activities. In recent times the harsh tactics have ceased but those identifying as ethnic Macedonian still report discrimination and harassment. They consider it of crucial importance for their continued existence that their ethnic identity and distinctiveness is respected. The Macedonian language is not recognized, taught, or a language of tuition in schools". ('Promotion and Protection of all Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, including the right to Development', Report of the independent expert on minority issues, Gay McDougall, Addendum Mission to Greece, (8-16 September 2008), A/HRC/10/11/Add.3, 18 February 2009, para. 41.)

Somewhat ironically given the Premier's comments, Ms McDougall even notes the symbolic ethnic cleansing of ethnic Macedonians by the Greek state in the early half of the 20th. Century: "In the 1920s and 30s laws required the replacement of non-Greek names of towns, villages, rivers and mountains with Greek names. The family names of the Macedonian speaking population were also required to be changed to Greek names. Individuals seeking to re-instate Macedonian family names have had their petitions refused by authorities on administrative grounds. Community representatives note that traditional names continue to be in common usage and call for reinstatement and the official usage of a dual nomenclature e.g. Florina/Lerin". (See para. 42.)

Indeed, Premier Rann would do well to read what the UN independent expert on minority rights recommends:

"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. The Greek government should comply with the judgments of the European Court on Human Rights that associations should be allowed to use the words Macedonian or Turkish in their names and to freely express their ethnic identities. Those associations denied in the past must be given official registration promptly. Their further rights to minority protections must be respected as elaborated in the Declaration on Minorities and the core international human rights treaties". (See para. 90.)

We reiterate it is strange that Premier Rann, the self-described champion of human rights and multiculturalism has never once mentioned the consistent human rights violations of Greece. In any case, the last time we checked, he is not the Foreign Minister of Australia and as a result of his offensive comments, it appears that Australia has lost what might turn out to be a crucial vote from the Republic of Macedonia in favour of membership of the U.N. Security Council. The consequences of fuelling ethnic tensions are probably going to be severe on this occasion.

Moreover, his comments against the President of the Republic of Macedonian, Georgi Ivanov, seem disingenuous, because the powers of the President of the Republic of Macedonia, in accordance with the Macedonian Constitution, are mainly ceremonial and he has very little influence on governmental decisions and the day-to day running of the country. He most certainly has no authority to change the names of airports or any other public institutions. Premier Rann's assertions in this regard are just absurd. They are akin to somebody condemning the Governor General for decisions to rename Australian highways, or airports for that matter.

Crux of the Complaint

However, this is not the most pertinent part of our complaint. This derives from comments after the Premier had moved on from discussing the President of the Republic of Macedonia and the public projects. Here, he made the following remarks (as his own transcript reveals): "People sometimes say to me, but why is this important? It is important because no one is entitled to steal another nation's history or culture; that's why it's important".

In the lead up to this offensive assertion, Premier Rann, implicitly though nevertheless clearly, explained that he was aiming those remarks at Macedonians; an ethnic group that does not consider itself Greek and again we quote:

"Some people you know interestingly just a few months ago in May, a whole group of very distinguished Greek scholars came out and had written to the new President of the United States, President Barack Obama and have said to him, told him the real history of Macedonia. Told him about the fact that the Greek Macedonians were there centuries and centuries before, the history of Phillip of Macedon, the history of Alexander the Great & Hellenism. And that's why this centre is so important. It's important for you but it's also important for the rest of us. To have a centre that celebrates the great Hellenic tradition, the Greek tradition of Makethonia. And so I promise you that we will remain firm and unswerving in our support for your cause.

People sometimes say to me "but why is this important?" It is important because no one is entitled to steal another nation's history or culture. That is why it's important."

What is the "Greek cause" that Mr. Rann is referring to? It is the desire to force Macedonians to change their identity name. This is a cause that aims to subvert the human right to self-identify. The whole paragraph makes it clear that if anyone, not just the current President of the Republic of Macedonia, regards him or herself as a Macedonian in a distinct non-Greek ethnic sense; or if they do not consider Alexander the Great to have been an ethnic Greek, then they are "Slavs" (a generic racial label used in reference to the Republic of Macedonia earlier by the Premier in his speech; a label that ignores national specificity - see the earlier part of the transcript) who are trying to "steal another nation's history or culture".

In other words, the Premier's comments were implicitly, but clearly based on ethnicity and/or nationality, and indeed he utilised the generic racial label "Slavic" in reference to the Republic of Macedonia. Moreover, the Premier appears to be claiming that his comments, which seem to be denying the ethnic identity of one group of people, the Macedonians, are his "genuine beliefs". This seems a somewhat extraordinary thing to maintain. However, not content with that, he goes on to claim that these views "represent fair comment on a matter of very real international public interest". Premier, it is not "fair comment" to deny the existence of a people, and the very real international public interest lies in the protection and promotion of human rights, such as the right to self identification, not the other way around.

We repeat that we are not historical and cultural thieves and we demand that the Premier take responsibility for his actions and apologise for the discriminatory slur against Macedonians.