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Cablegate: Northern Greece Muslims, Far Right and Left Parties

VZCZCXRO3584
RR RUEHAG RUEHAST RUEHDA RUEHDF RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHLN RUEHLZ
RUEHPOD RUEHROV RUEHSR RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHIK #0012/01 0521111
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 211111Z FEB 08
FM AMCONSUL THESSALONIKI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0311
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHIK/AMCONSUL THESSALONIKI 0343

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 THESSALONIKI 000012

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EUR/SE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM GR TU
SUBJECT: NORTHERN GREECE MUSLIMS, FAR RIGHT AND LEFT PARTIES
CRITICIZE NEW LAW STRENGTHENING MINORITY RIGHTS

REF: A. 07 THESSALONIKI 19, B. 06 THESSALONIKI 134, C. 07 THESSALONIKI 72, D. 07 THESSALONIKI 132

THESSALONI 00000012 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On February 6, the Greek Parliament adopted
a law that strengthens the rights of Thrace's Muslim minority by
(1) transferring government control over Muslim charitable
foundations (wakfs) to local Muslims, and (2) establishing a 0.5
percent employment quota for Muslims in Greece's public sector.
The two steps were part of a package of measures announced by
Greek MFA Dora Bakoyannis in February 2007. Thrace Muslims,
including Parliament's only two Muslim deputies, complain that
the law still allows the government to intervene in the
community's religious affairs, and fails to address their
longstanding demands to elect muftis and allow ethnic Turks to
self-identify as "Turkish." Extreme right LAOS deputies,
meanwhile, called the establishment of a Muslim minority
employment quota "racist" and discriminatory against other
religions. Coalition of the Left and the Communist Party also
criticized the law for establishing policy based on ethnicity.
END SUMMARY

MUSLIMS REGAIN CONTROL OVER CHARITABLE FOUNDATIONS/WAKFS

2. (SBU) The Greek Parliament passed a law on February 6
implementing two of several measures announced by MFA Dora
Bakoyannis last February intended to strengthen the rights of
Thrace's 100-120,000 (mostly Turkophone) Muslims (ref A). The
law gives Muslims greater control over charitable foundations,
or wakfs, which play a key role in Muslim communities by
generating income for educational, religious and cultural
activities. Specifically, the new law allows Thrace Muslims to
elect the management boards of wakfs in their community,
reversing a 1980 law under which only the government appointed
wakf board members. The new law, however, allows the
government-appointed regional governor (periferiarchis) to
appoint wakf board members in certain (unspecified) cases. Wakf
boards will also be required to provide an annual financial
report to the government-appointed muftis. Muslims have
objected to the law's provisions for "intervention" by the
regional governor and oversight by the official muftis. [Note:
Parliament's two Muslim MPs (both PASOK) criticized these
provisions but voted for the law. End note].

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION FOR MUSLIMS IN GREECE'S PUBLIC SECTOR

3. (SBU) The new law also establishes a 0.5 percent quota for
Thrace Muslims in Greece's highly coveted public sector. The
law does not provide a mechanism, timeline or other details
regarding implementation. (Note: Thrace Muslims make up
approximately 1.0 percent of the population countrywide. A 0.5
percent quota is already in effect for Muslims in Greek
universities. End note) Muslim leaders have expressed concern
that the public sector quota could draw talented young Muslims
out of Thrace to take civil service jobs in large cities, thus
weakening Thrace's Muslim community. Influential former MP from
Thrace Ilhan Ahmed, however, strongly supports the public sector
quota. Some Thrace [non-Muslim] citizens have initiated a
petition criticizing the quota as discriminatory against
Christians. LAOS has called the quota "racist" and leftist
parties have objected to it as race-based policy.

4. (SBU) The new law is the latest of several steps the GoG has
taken to implement the package of initiatives announced by
Bakoyannis last February. The status of the other initiatives
follows below:

-- CANCELLATION of debt owed by wakfs: Parliament voted last
March to cancel tax debts owed by wakfs, estimated at over Euros
6 million. According to post contacts, despite this legislative
decision, Thrace tax authorities have not received formal
instructions from the Ministry of Finance cancelling the debts,
leaving their status ambiguous.

-- RE-INSTATEMENT OF "STATELESS" MUSLIMS PROGRESSING: Shortly
after Bakoyannis' February 2007 announcement, the GoG
re-instated the citizenship of about 46 persons from Thrace who
had lost Greek citizenship under Article 19 (repealed in 1998)
of the Greek Constitution, a provision which deprived thousands
of (ethnically Turkish) Greeks of citizenship when they
"deserted" Greek territory, e.g. stayed abroad for a long period
of time (ref B). An MFA contact told us recently there are
fewer than 10 outstanding claims for re-instatement. He could
not explain the delay in processing the claims. Muslim activists
estimate there are 350 to 500 stateless Muslims who have not
registered for re-instatement. Some Turkish authorities claim
the number is much higher.

-- HIRING OF 240 IMAMS APPROVED BUT ON HOLD: Parliament passed
a law in March 2007 authorizing the government to hire 240 imams
to assist in the religious education of the Muslim minority in
Thrace. No imams have agreed to be hired, however. Muslims

THESSALONI 00000012 002.2 OF 002


strongly object to the law's provision for the imams to be
appointed by a committee comprised of Christians (i.e.
representatives of the Ministries of Education and Foreign
Affairs, as well as three academics). A GoG contact told us
some imams are willing to accept a government appointment but
are intimidated from doing so by "radicals."

-- HELPING MUSLIMS WITH EDUCATION AND JOBS: In September, the
government completed a vocational training program announced by
Bakoyannis last February for 1175 Muslim women, funded by the
EU. Since last February, the GoG has created two "second
chance" schools that help adults obtain high school diplomas.
Muslims continue to complain about the poor quality of schools
serving Thrace Muslims and demand more schools that can provide
instruction in Turkish.

5. (SBU) COMMENT: Last February, FM Bakoyannis said the goal
behind her proposed measures was to help transform Thrace from
an area of "concern" to one of "hope." Muslims, however, have
reacted skeptically, especially as implementation lagged, and
showed their disappointment in September 16 national elections
(ref C). In order to improve its standing with Thrace Muslims
and prevent further rise in the low level of Muslim political
activism, the GoG will need to address more high priority Muslim
demands, including better economic prospects and the right of
Muslims to choose their religious leaders (muftis) and
self-identify collectively as "Turkish."

6. (SBU) COMMENT CONTINUED: The GoG remains highly sensitive
to criticism about its treatment of the Turkish minority,
especially from Turkey, which many Greeks believe harbors
irredentist designs on Thrace. Greece also rejects Turkish
attempts to link progress on Thrace minority issues with
progress on Greek minority issues in Turkey. Still, there are
signs Greece recognizes the advantages of removing this irritant
in bilateral relations. The Greek Parliament tabled the new law
during Turkish FM Babacan's early December visit to Athens and
Thrace (ref D) and passed it soon after PM Karamanlis's late
January visit to Ankara, despite domestic criticism. Further
steps from Greece, however, will likely require corresponding
gestures from Turkey, e.g. on Halki Seminary and the Ecumenical
Patriarch.
YEE

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