The Greek establishment still punishes people who deviate from the official line on Macedonia, as one former PASOK official discovered to his cost.
By Takis Michas in Athens
The legal prosecution and state-inspired harassment of people professing different views on “national issues” that took place during the early 1990s has left deep marks on Greek society.
Thus, today, even those few persons that have more critical views on the Macedonian issue, for example, prefer to keep them to themselves, fearing that such views will not improve their career prospects. As recent events show, their fears are not unjustified.
Grigoris Valianatos had been employed since 1985 with the leading left-wing opposition party PASOK as a political communications advisor. His job was to “package” the political message of the party and help disseminate it. He did not have any say in the contents of the message.
But when Valianatos was asked about his views on the “Skopje” issue and the Macedonian minority in Greece during a TV interview last Thursday, he replied that the country had every right to be called “Macedonia” and that a Macedonian minority existed in Greece.
Although he made clear that those were his personal views and by no means the views of the party, this clarification did not help him. The next morning, PASOK issued a laconic statement informing the public that Valianatos’s contract had been terminated because he had expressed “personal opinions” that contradicted the party line.
“I was really shocked when I read the statement,” Valianatos told me when I met him in Athens. “Everybody knew my views all these years and I never had the slightest problem. Indeed when I gave a speech at a PASOK meeting a few year ago and referred to the existence of a Turkish and a Macedonian minority the participants all applauded, including the party leader, George Papandreou.”
The government in Skopje argues that there is indeed a Macedonian minority in Greece, which has been deprived of its basic human rights of cultural and national expression and education in its mother tongue.
Athens, on the other hand, says that the only true Macedonians are the Greek Macedonians. As Greek Prime Minister Karamanlis wrote in his letter to FYROM Prime Minister Guevski «there has never existed a Macedonian minority» in Greece.
Ever since the break-up of former Yugoslavia in 1991, Macedonia’s name and history has been the object of a dispute between Athens and Skopje.
After Greece strongly objected to Macedonia’s entry in to the United Nations under that name, the country was admitted in 1993 under the provisional term “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,” FYROM, pending a solution to the dispute.
The Skopje government insisted it had no territorial claims on Greek territory, while Athens for its part pledged not to block Skopje’s accession to international organizations, as long as it remained under the provisional name.
The so-called “name” row gained in momentum this April after Athens blocked Skopje’s application to join NATO, insisting Macedonia had to change its name first.
Valianatos, meanwhile, is also the author of various books, which until recently appeared on the personal website of Papandreou. After the incident, they disappeared from the PASOK leader’s website.
Valianatos insists his former role in PASOK had been purely technocratic. “My role was not political. I would offer all sorts of ideas concerning how to make PASOK’s message more effective but I had absolutely no influence in shaping the message,” he said. “That is why I find the decision to terminate my contract incomprehensible. It is like dismissing your dentist because he happens to be a Maoist!”
Papandreou recently attended in Brussels a meeting of the Socialist International, the organization of which he is the current president. What is ironic is that most European socialists would agree with Valianatos on the issue of a Macedonian minority.
Alas, Greece is not like the rest of Europe, and what is considered self-evident in a European context is still too often considered a dangerous heresy in the Balkans.