MEMOIR of a Visit to Australia by Macedonian Human Rights Activists from Egej and Pirin
16 April, 2009
From March 24-31, 2009 in Melbourne, Australia, the Australian Macedonian Human Rights Committee (AMHRC) was privileged to have hosted a visit by Macedonian Human Rights activists from Greece and Bulgaria. Included in this visit were Mr. Natse Parisis and Mr. Dimitri Ioannou, as representatives of the AMHRC's partner organisation in Greece, Vinozhito, and Mr. Stoyko Stoykov, representing the AMHRC's partner organisation in Bulgaria, OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN. These activists, and their respective organisations, are at the forefront of advocating for and protecting Macedonian minority rights in Greece and Bulgaria. We are also delighted to note that this visit was carried out in co-ordination with Macedonian Human Rights Movement International (MHRMI) based in Toronto, Canada - the fourth partner in what has been a bastion of truly internationally united Macedonian co-operation for over two decades now.
It gives the AMHRC, MHRMI, Vinozhito and OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN, great satisfaction to report that this visit was a resounding success. All of the aims and objectives of the visit were met, and our visiting Macedonian Human Rights activists, were able to return to their respective positions in Greece and Bulgaria with the knowledge that awareness of, and support for the human rights of Macedonian minorities in Greece and Bulgaria, increased significantly as a result of the visit.
Primarily, the purpose of this visit was to give the Macedonian community in Australia an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the work undertaken by Vinozhito and OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN on behalf of ethnic Macedonian minorities in Greece and Bulgaria. Given the concern of the Macedonian community in Australia for Macedonian minorities in Europe, this visit was an opportunity to inform Macedonians in Australia of the ongoing breaches of fundamental human rights experienced by ethnic Macedonians in these countries. It was also an opportunity for Vinozhito and OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN to seek further long-term support for their activities from the Australian Macedonian community.
With these aims in mind the AMHRC designed a program for the visit that would maximise the opportunity for the visiting activists to engage with Macedonian community leaders and concerned Macedonians in Australia. Some of the highlights were as follows:
On Wednesday March 25 our guests were given a rest in order to recover from their long journey to Melbourne. However on Thursday morning they were hard at work. The day began with a 9.00am visit by our guests accompanied by a delegation from the AMHRC, to the Doncaster (a suburb located in Melbourne's east) Macedonian Pensioners Association. There must have been an attendance of over 400 elderly Macedonians and they gave our visitors a rousing reception.
Natse Parisis appears to be a firm believer in what some social philosophers have termed the "Perspectivist" viewpoint on social forms. He demonstrated this by explaining that moves towards European integration will lead to greater contact amongst Macedonians throughout the Balkans. He very pertinently pointed out, that OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN and Vinozhito are already members of the same European political party - the European Free Alliance (EFA). The response from the crowd, was rapturous, they obviously connected with Natse's "perspectivism"; and why shouldn't they have? We, at any rate, can not think of a single reason. The gathering ended with generous promises from the elders, of support for the AMHRC's Macedonian Minorities Support Fund. A very productive beginning.
From Doncaster, the AMHRC delegation together with its special guests raced downtown to the studios of 3ZZZ (a major multicultural radio station) for an interview with Itso Naidovski, the host of a popular Macedonian radio hour. Understandably, the interview filled the entire program and Natse, Stoyko and Dimitri excelled in answering questions that required details beyond standard generalisations. A key point was reached when all agreed, that the Greek argument in connection with the name dispute, that is the so-called "confusion" argument, remains nonsensical when it is noted that the constitutional name of the Republic of Macedonia already obviously possesses a pre-fix, as does Greece's "Province of Macedonia" - thus there should be no difficulty in distinguishing the two entities, especially as one is a state and the other, a province.
After departing from the studios of 3ZZZ, the already famously mobile "Delegation", made their way to the premises of the Macedonian Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria, located in Melbourne's outer northern suburb of Epping. Here, a late lunch was provided and an emotional meeting took place between a "Delegation" and the Association of Macedonian Child Refugees (Detsa Begaltsi). Tears of joy flowed, as Dimitri in particular, spoke about the renaissance of Macedonian culture currently taking place in Greece. Also here, the AMHRC representatives took the opportunity to explain about the preparations taking place for a class action against the Greek state - that is in relation to the discriminatory laws maintained by Greece against ethnic Macedonian refugees from the Greek Civil War (1946-1949). Crucial to this discussion was the point that we would need to participate in the action involving not just a demand for property compensation, but also a restoration of citizenship. Mr. Yanko Kalinchev, president of the refugee association, responded by pledging support for the AMHRC's initiatives in this regard.
This very successful day was ended by a dinner with the visitors and the AMHRC. The restaurant was especially chosen for Stoyko, who had a long burning desire to try kangaroo. It was not that easy to locate a restaurant for the purpose - contrary to popular belief, there are not many restaurants in Australia that serve up the national symbol. We are not sure if there is another nation-state that encourages consumption of its national symbol; nor were we sure in the end, about whether Stoyko's desire, considering his facial expression, might not have been better left unfulfilled...perhaps it was the particular chef's fault?
On Friday the 27th of March the AMHRC held an all day Human Rights conference in downtown Melbourne. Aside from the AMHRC and the visiting activists, the conference was attended by representatives of numerous Macedonian community groups throughout Australia. These people need to be noted, as they all made useful contributions to the day's proceedings: Victor Bivell (Pollitecon Publications - an Australian based publisher of books to do with matters Macedonian); Gligor Apoleski (a long time, Sydney based, Macedonian activist); Igor Alexandrov (Macedonian Orthodox community of Sydney, New South Wales); Steve Kostoff and Tom Pisarcoff (Macedonian Orthodox Community of Adelaide and South Australia); Yote Kyandovski and Jim Bivoltsis (Macedonian Orthodox Commmunity of Perth and Western Australia); Sam Ristovski (Macedonian Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria); Vlado Trpchevski (Macedonian Orthodox Community in Sydenham); Yanko Kalinchev and Lazo Kristov (Macedonian Child Refugees); Itso Naidovski (3ZZZ); Margarita Vasileva (SBS Macedonian Radio Program); Lou Stankovski (editor of the Australian Macedonian Weekly and Igor Pavlovski (editor of Today, Macedonian weekly newspaper). Also, we would like to send our thanks to Chris Angelkov (Macedonian Orthodox Community of Perth and Western Australia), who, although not present, was very helpful.
The agenda for the conference was designed to advance an understanding of the status of Macedonians in Greece and Bulgaria, and to discuss strategies to protect and promote the Human Rights of Macedonians throughout the world. The day began with Dimitri and Stoyko each giving highly detailed hour long power point presentations, that created much food for thought and discussion. Impressive was the news of the considerable expansion of Vinozhito branches in eastern Aegean Macedonia and OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN's legal plans to continue to challenge Bulgaria's unlawful de-registration of their party.
After a lunch that was served in the conference room, members of the AMHRC (Jason Kambovski, Sasha Nachkovski, Vasko Nastevski, Dr. Chris Popov, John Tsiglev and George Vlahov) informed attendees of their current and ongoing activities. These, among others, include lobbying of the Australian government and involvement in legal action on behalf of Macedonian refugees from the Greek Civil War (Detsa Begaltsi). It is worth noting that the AMHRC has accepted the task of organising Australian-Macedonian participation in the class action being prepared against Greece. The talks were quite rapid and internet messages even came in at this point from the AMHRC's International Co-ordinator in Skopje, David Vitkov and also from MHRMI president, Bill Nicholov; the world really seemed to shrink for a transient moment and it set off some staccato typing from the AMHRC's Media Liason Officer, Lyubitsa Durlovska...a pause was needed.
After a tea break, a constructive open forum discussion ensued. A key point was reached when it was accurately pointed out by Igor Alexandrov, that although Vinozhito and OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN are technically political parties; support provided for their activities cannot be considered an act of partisan party politics, for the fundamental basis of their activity involves a struggle for basic human rights, rights that in the West, are regarded as essential and are protected by international law. This was no surprise, as Igor represents a body that has been generously supporting OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN's newspaper, Narodna Volya. It was after this that the community organisations from Melbourne, Sydenham, Sydney and Perth made out substantial contributions to the AMHRC's Macedonian Minorities Support Fund. Promises of similar contributions were also made by the representatives from Adelaide. Lastly, it must be noted that Igor Pavlovski and Lou Stankovski, made considerable contributions to the Minorities' Fund and all of this kept the AMHRC's financial managers, Tase Filipov and Michael Kochev, quite, but happily, busy.
The AMHRC would like here to once more take this opportunity to thank the visiting interstate delegates, who travelled from as far as Sydney, Adelaide and Perth to attend. The positive contributions made by all attendees ensured that the conference was a great success, with many important issues discussed and strategies formulated for the effective advocacy of Macedonian human rights in Australia and abroad.
The following evening, Saturday 28th. March, the AMHRC held its annual dinner function at Neret Receptions in Melbourne. This event was important for two reasons. Primarily, it gave the visiting activists an opportunity to engage with the wider Macedonian community. Secondly, the function celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the formation of the AMHRC. More than 400 Macedonians (the event was a sell-out) were in attendance to hear the visiting activists talk about the human rights struggles of the Macedonian minorities in Greece and Bulgaria. The activists were very well received by the appreciative audience. Indeed, the visitors were "swamped" like rock stars - at one point Natse had to be "rescued", as he found it impossible to make his way back to his chair...
The function demonstrated that, 25 years after the formation of the AMHRC, the wider Macedonian community is still very supportive of it and the important work it undertakes on behalf of Macedonian minorities. The AMHRC demonstrated its appreciation for this support in speeches delivered by Vasko Nastevski and George Vlahov. They also emphasised the internationally co-operative nature of the AMHRC's work, as it is carried out, hand in hand with MHRMI.
Apart from a special Macedonian dance, ordered by some members for the AMHRC and the visitors, the highlight of the evening was the auctioning of the EFA flag - skilfully conducted by Jason Kambovski. There were gasps as Lazo Genis ensured his ownership of the prized symbol, with a bid of $2,500.
On the following Sunday the AMHRC held a public meeting at the Preston (an inner-northern Melbourne suburb) Makedonia Social Club. Again, this was a well attended meeting and was a further opportunity for the activists to engage in a more intimate manner, with the wider Macedonian community.
A significant point that was made by Stoyko, Dimitri and Natse at various times on the day, was that as citizens of, and taxpayers in Bulgaria and Greece, there is no question of seeking rights from the Republic of Macedonia - this responsibility belongs rather to Bulgaria and Greece. An important matter that needed clarification, as some members of the community still find it difficult to separate the ethno-cultural, from the politico-legal, citizenship realm.
The meeting wound up with an appeal for new members to join the AMHRC's Minorities fund and we apologise if this success story is starting to bore our readers, but the fact is, this appeal met with a more than decent response - Gotse Stefanovski's and Dr. Suzanna Kotevski's sizeable contributions, need special mention here.
Monday 30th. March, was a day allocated for media interviews - not all of which took place. Greek radio programs declined to accept the opportunity, as did "Neos Kosmos" (New World - the major Greek-Australian newspaper, with a very large circulation). However, sitting with Natse and Dimitri, early on Monday morning at an inner-city Melbourne cafe, we noticed a gentleman a few tables away, reading the Neos Kosmos. "Hawkeye" Parisis quickly spotted that Vino's visit had made the front page! A copy was quickly purchased and to the surprise of all, it was found that the account was factual...it even quoted accurately from the recent U.N. Report that recommended that Greece give up on trying to argue that there is no such thing as an ethnic Macedonian minority in Greece.
Later, Stoyko was interviewed by the Bulgarian program on SBS radio (the major state sponsored, Australia wide multicultural radio station). Upon being told by the interviewer that Bulgaria was a model democracy, Stoyko responded by concisely re-counting facts to do with the unlawful de-registration of OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN and these, beyond leaving the interviewer in obvious shock, drove her to change tack and begin asking Stoyko about Melbourne's landscape...
In the afternoon, unfortunately some mainstream journalists pleaded unforseen emergencies and as our visitors were due to leave the next day, time could not be found for re-scheduling. None-the-less, the day ended on a positive note, with an interview between our visitors and Margarita Vasileva and Violetta Yovanovska, hosts of the Macedonian program on SBS radio. As usual, these women came prepared and the final result was a nuanced affair that brought the best out of our guests.
Tuesday 31st. March, D-day; departure. We won't partake of sentimentality, at the airport, there were some hugs and it was thanks and goodbye.
The AMHRC would like to take this opportunity to thank all those involved in making these events such a success. The large numbers of people attending these events and the general community involvement is representative of the ongoing concern Macedonians in Australia have for the human rights of ethnic Macedonians in Greece and Bulgaria. It is also indicative of the continuing support the AMHRC has from the Macedonian community for its human rights advocacy work, and recognition that the support (financial and technical) the AMHRC gives to Macedonian minority representatives such as Vinozhito and OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN, is essential to ensuring the effectiveness of these organisations.
To be clear, the AMHRC, along with its counterpart organisation in Canada, MHRMI (Macedonian Human Rights Movement International), provide regular and substantial aid to Vinozhito and OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN. As was acknowledged by the visiting activists, without this support, it is likely that neither group would be able to undertake its important work on behalf of the Macedonian minorities in Greece and Bulgaria. It is important that the Macedonian communities in both Australia and Canada recognise this fact by providing ongoing support to both the AMHRC and MHRMI.
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Founded in 1984, the Australian Macedonian Human Rights Committee (AMHRC) has been working towards achieving human rights for Macedonians and other oppressed minorities. For more information, please visit www.macedonianhr.org.au , or contact AMHRC at +61 3 9460 2910, or email@example.com.
Macedonian Human Rights Movement International (MHRMI) has been active on human and national rights issues for Macedonians and other oppressed peoples since 1986. For more information, please visit www.mhrmi.org , or contact MHRMI at 416-850-7125, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Founded in 1995, EFA-Rainbow is the political party of the Macedonian minority in Greece and is a member of the European Free Alliance and the Federal Union of European Nationalities. For more information, please visit www.florina.org , or contact EFA-Rainbow at 0030 23850 46548, or email@example.com.
Founded in 1999, OMO "Ilinden" - PIRIN is the political party of the Macedonian minority in Bulgaria and is a member of the European Free Alliance. For more information, please visit www.omoilindenpirin.org.
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