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Regions, minorities and European integration: A case study on Muslims in Western Thrace, Greece

Regions, minorities and European integration: A case study on
Muslims in Western Thrace, Greece
Dia Anagnostou, Anna Triandafyllidou
Contact details:
Dr. Dia Anagnostou, Research Fellow, ELIAMEP, Vas. Sofias ave. 49, Athens 10676,
Greece, email:,
Dr. Anna Triandafyllidou, Senior Research Fellow, ELIAMEP, Vas. Sofias ave. 49, Athens
10676, tel. 0030 210 7257111, fax 0030 210 7257114, tel/fax 0030 2610 454964, email:
1. Introduction
The border region of Western Thrace in the northeast part of Greece is home to a
small but politically significant population of about 120,000 Muslims, inhabiting the
region together with a Greek Christian majority.1 With its strategic location between
three states and two continents, the Muslim community of Western Thrace marks a
particular kind of geographical and cultural-historical boundary between East and
West. In Europe’s southernmost corner, the region of Thrace borders with Turkey to
the east and Bulgaria to the north. Across the northern border, Bulgaria’s south and
southeast regions are also home to large and territorially concentrated Turkish
communities, portions of the country’s sizeable Turkish minority. Thrace is part of the
administrative region of East Macedonia and Thrace (Perifereia Anatolikis
Makedonias & Thrakis), and consists of three prefectures, Ksanthi, Rhodope and
Evros. Being a lagging region within the sluggish Greek economy, it is a case of a
‘double periphery’ that ranks at the low end of the EU scale in terms of per capita
income and overall development (Ioannides and Petrakos 2000: 32).
A relic of the country’s Ottoman past, Thrace’s Muslim community was
exempt correspondingly with the Greeks of Istanbul, from the mandatory population
exchange between Greece and Turkey agreed with the Treaty of Lausanne (1923).
Signed in the aftermath of Greece’s military debacle in Anatolia, the international
Treaty of Lausanne includes a section on the ‘Protection of Minorities’, a bilateral
agreement between Greece and Turkey containing a series of provisions to guarantee
the rights of the exempted minority populations. In respect of these, the Greek has
government kept in place the institution of Islamic law (sharia), which had existed
since the Ottoman period. Regulated with Law 2345 of 1920, Islamic law in Thrace is
a judicial sub-system, in which the Mufti, the spiritual and religious leader, arbitrates
in matters related to family, inheritance and child custody, giving ‘opinions’ (fetwas)
on the basis of Islamic law rather than the Civil code which applies to Greek citizens
in general (Tsourkas 1987; Soltaridis 1997).2 In fulfilment of the Lausanne Treaty
provisions, the Greek authorities also established a bilingual (Greek-Turkish) minority
education system. Greece and Turkey had signed two bilateral agreements in 1951
(morfotiki simfonia) and 1968 (morfotiko protokolo) to decide educational policy vis-
a-vis the minorities (Baltsiotis 1997: 321-2).
Comprising individuals of Turkish origin, Gypsies (Roma), and Slav-speaking
Pomaks, the Muslims of Thrace prior to World War II coexisted largely as a religious
community characteristic of the Ottoman millet system. Since the 1950s, however,
they have transformed into a minority with ethnic consciousness, and in the past
twenty years they have mobilized to assert a common Turkish identity. The latter has
caused a major and ongoing rift with Greek authorities who officially recognize a
‘Muslim minority’ in reference to the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 that has defined the
status of the latter until the present. Acknowledging the resonance of ethnic Turkish
1 The overall population of Thrace is 340,000. The precise size of the Turkish Muslim population is a matter of
dispute due to their large-scale immigration over the years and the lack of an official census since the 1950s.
Estimates range from 90,000 to over 120,000 while official accounts put it between 110,000-135,000 (see The
Muslim Minority in Greece, Athens: ELIAMEP, 1995). Alexandris estimated the minority in 1981 to be about
120,000, with 45% Turkish-speaking, 36% Pomaks and 18% Roma (Alexandris 1988: 524).
2 The Greek Civil Code provides Muslim women the right to chose whether to take a case to religious as opposed
to the civil court and thus individuals presumably submit their case voluntarily to them. See European
Perspectives - Economic & Foreign Policy Issues, Athens: Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Ministry of Press and
Mass Media, 1995, p.106.
identification within the community, but also its internal cultural diversity, in this
report, we use both terms interchangeably.
Despite Greece’s transition to democracy in 1974, state relations with the
minority in Thrace deteriorated due to the deepening crisis with Turkey, as well as to
a series of restrictive measures adopted by the Greek governments, which deprived
the Muslim population of basic social and economic rights. In protest, in the second
half of the 1980s the minority mobilized politically on the basis of Turkish
nationalism, supporting independent minority candidates in parliamentary elections,
who were not affiliated with Greek political parties. The accompanying tensions that
erupted between Muslims and Christians in the region in early 1990 marked a nadir
but also a turning point; they made clear the failure of the previous discriminatory
policy, pointing to the need for change.
Alarmed by tumultuous conditions in Thrace at the turn of the decade, the
Greek government decided in 1991 to abolish the discriminatory measures and
announced a new approach towards the minority to be guided by ‘legal equality –
equal citizenship’ (isonomeia-isopoliteia). Such an approach was for the first time put
to practice through a new regional development strategy for border regions, which
was launched with the Findings of the Inter-party Committee for Border Regions
submitted to the Greek Parliament in 1992.3 While not in any direct way prompted by
the EU, the redirection of government policy towards minority rights and their
embedding in regional development strategies, this report argues, cannot be
understood independently from, and would not have been possible outside of,
Greece’s processes of European integration.
The change in minority policy coincided with the intensification of integration
processes, at a time of poor economic performance that necessitated the adoption of
stabilization measures under EU supervision. Concern with the growing gap between
the Greek and the EC economy4 led to the transfer of increasing amounts of structural
funds to Greece.5 Resources from structural funds have been allocated to Thrace as a
border region of strategic importance in the post-Cold War Balkans making possible
intensified development efforts and infrastructure investments (Stratigiko Schedio
Anaptiksis Makedonias & Thrakis 1994: 98-100). Of the 13 regional development
programmes under the Community Support Frameworks for 1989-93, 1994-9, and
2000-2006, Eastern Macedonia and Thrace received the third largest fund in Greece
(after the two major urban areas of Athens/Attiki and Thessaloniki in Central
Macedonia) (Chlepas 1999: 164; Getimis and Economou 1996: 131).6 The influx of
structural funds enabled the Greek government to put to practice a new development
strategy in Greek regions and prefectures, including those of Thrace.
Besides their pecuniary significance, equally, if not more important, have been
the institutional implications of EU structural funds for Greece’s subnational
structures. Linked to growing dependence on structural funds were a series of reforms
of local, prefecture and regional institutions, undertaken by Greek governments from
3 Findings of the Inter-party Committee for Border Regions, Greek Parliament, Athens, 14 February 1992.
Appended in I Anaptixi tis Anatolikis Makedonias kai Thrakis (1995).
4 While in 1981 Greek GDP per capita was 53% of the EC average, by 1995, it fell to 45% of the EC average
(Ioannides and Petrakos 2000: 32).
5 For the second Community Support Framework (CSF) covering the 1994-99 period these amounted to 3.7% of
the country’s GDP (Ioannides and Petrakos 2000: 51).
6 Out of the nearly 1 billion euro of total public expenditure for the Regional Development Program of Eastern
Macedonia and Thrace for 2000-2006, only 25% of it came from national funds, while 75% came from the EU
structural funds. In addition to public expenditure, approximately 0.14 billion comes from private sector
contributions. List of programmes for 2000-2006 adopted by the Commission (Objectives 1, 2, and 3). See
the second half of the 1980s onwards. The extent and nature of EU influence in this
regard is a matter of controversy in Greek studies as it was discussed in the state of
the art report. Yet, there is little doubt that the country’s subnational structures in the
early 1990s, considered among the most centralized in Europe, were thoroughly
unsuitable to implementing structural funds (Marks 1997: 163). Creating viable and
active sub-national structures capable of exercising power had never been a
widespread public demand and was largely perceived as a threat to the country’s
territorial integrity (Verney 1994: 167; Ioakimidis 1996: 343). A series of reforms
since the late 1980s in this direction, however, were strongly contested in Thrace
because of their important implications for ethnic relations in the region.
Within the frame of the EUROREG project, this report explores the redefined
government policy towards the minority and regional changes, largely undertaken in
the context of EU integration, as well as their consequences for ethnic politics,
cultural mobilization and inter-communal relations in Thrace. In the following
section, we outline the background of minority-majority relations and the main socio-
economic and political features of the minority and the region of Thrace. In the third
and fourth sections we assess the regional context of change within the frame of
European integration, and the ways in which it has shaped patterns of socioeconomic
activity and political mobilization of the minority. We also discuss the ways in which
patterns of minority-majority cooperation and the minority participation in the
regional economy and local-prefecture government have changed today as opposed to
those of the 1980s. The fifth section discusses the cultural and political demands of
the minority and its patterns of ethnic and national identification. We critically assess
the minority and majority understandings of Greek national and Turkish ethnic
identity, the minority’s sense of belonging to Europe and also the minority and
majority understandings of Greek citizenship.
The original hypotheses of EUROREG were that regional and minority rights
changes in the context of European integration a) promote political and economic
integration of minorities in development frames, as well as inter-communal
cooperation, and b) reinforce a relative decline of nationalist politics, with the
interests and identity of minorities and majorities increasingly emphasizing social-
economic integration, civic participation and equal citizenship, as opposed to ethnic
solidarity. In this report, we present the findings of the empirical research that partly
support the first hypothesis. We furthermore argue that national and ethnic politics in
Thrace have grown more moderate since the 1990s, at the same time, there are
important differences in how Muslims and Christians in Thrace understand
democratic rights and citizenship. In the context of European integration, national and
ethnic differences in Thrace remain salient, yet, they appear to diversify and acquire a
qualitatively different content and meaning in comparison to the 1980s.
This report is based on thirty five interviews conducted in the prefectures of
Ksanthi and Komotini in Thrace with representatives of minority and majority among
the following groups: elected representatives, community leaders, civil society and
media representatives, development public officials, development private business,
and main project beneficiaries. It furthermore draws from the relevant literature and
policy documents and other ‘grey’ material available to us and listed in the
2. Background of the case: the legacy of underdevelopment and minority
Since its foundation in the 19th century, a fundamental centralist predilection inspired
by the French Napoleonic model, has characterized Greek administrative and
territorial structures. Historical reasons related to the slow process of unification of
different areas and a sense of national insecurity, led to and found expression in the
formation of a highly centralized state. Inseparably linked to nation-state building,
centralization has been explicitly geared towards modernisation, national
homogenization and the achievement of social-political unification (Chlepas 1999:
90; 105). It became entrenched in the country’s long-lived administrative division into
51 prefectures that after World War II prevailed as the main administrative-territorial
units, as well as public agencies of development policies.
Headed by the prefect who was appointed by the central government, the
prefectures’ role in development was thoroughly shaped by national imperatives and
decisions. Despite reform attempts in the 1970s, they continued to comprise sectorally
fragmented departmental units directly linked and subordinate to their respective
central ministries, which were minimally connected to local society and their social-
cultural milieu (Chlepas 1999: 128; Makridimitris 1997: 74). At the same time, as loci
of clientelistic relations and centres for distributing state resources and coordinating
public investments in their territory, they functioned as important structures of central
state control over local society (Christofilopoulou 1997: 43).
In the ethnically mixed region of Thrace, a particular and reinforced kind of
centralization became entrenched; it was permeated by nationalist imperatives that
revolved around the prefecture and thoroughly shaped local politics. Surfacing
particularly in periods of deteriorating Greek-Turkish relations such as after 1974, it
was underpinned by an overarching ideological imperative of national unity.
Unofficial but widespread administrative practices that flourished around the
prefecture systematically prevented Muslims from acquiring property or performing
even routine matters such as receiving bank loans or driving licenses, finding
employment, etc. (Giannopoulos and Psaras 1990: 18). The skewed distribution of
resources in Thrace that deprived Muslims of rights and resources and exclusively
privileged Christians, was deemed imperative and driven by the logic to combat the
‘Turkish threat’.
Centralization cum nationalism in Thrace was most glaringly manifested in the
fact that minority issues came under the scrutiny and supervision of the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs. The Ministry’s euphemistically called Office of Cultural Affairs
(Grafeio Ekpolitistikon Ypotheseon) in the prefectures of Ksanthi, Rhodope and
Kavala handled all affairs related to Turkish Muslims with absolute discretion, in
violation of laws and rights applying to Greek citizens in general. Run by high-rank
state officials ironically referred to as the “minority governors,” who had been
appointed by the junta in 1967-1974, these offices monitored and circumscribed all
economic transactions involving Muslims, with the support of Greek local authorities,
employers, banks, enterprises and interest groups. The unparalleled, even if unofficial,
separate system outside the sphere of democratic politics, under which the minority in
Thrace was governed, was only possible with the consent or acquiescence of the
government-appointed prefect and the centralized prefecture administration.
It is evident from the above that the distribution of central resources in the
post-World War II period and the workings of local and prefecture institutions in
Thrace became specifically shaped by nationalist priorities linked to the presence of
the minority. Lacking explicit development priorities, the national government and the
prefect who was its local representative, distributed central rights and resources in
Thrace through clientilistic interests to those deemed politically loyal (Verney and
Papageorgiou 1994: 111). Local Christians and investors with political leverage were
granted the bulk of resources and state grants on the basis of their nationalist
credentials (ethnikofrones), with little if any consideration of development needs and
criteria. The systematic deprivation of the minority’s social and economic rights
suspended the development of Muslim-inhabited areas, sustained the region’s
dependence on agriculture7 and distorted its economy as a whole resulting in its
The Muslim-inhabited prefectures of Rhodope and Ksanthi are characterised
by glaring disparities between a minority-inhabited mountainous and undeveloped
zone in the north, and a southern predominantly Christian zone, which is fertile and
more prosperous. Between the two, there is an intermediate belt with mixed
population.9 Up until 1996, the northern mountainous areas entirely populated by the
minority were designated as ‘restricted zones’, where travel by outsiders required
special clearance and a permit from the police. The majority of Muslims work in
agriculture and have a long tradition in the growing of labour-intensive varieties of
tobacco, making up over 90 per cent of its producers in the region.10 They are active
in ‘their own’ segregated section of the local market occupied by minority suppliers
(tradesmen, producers, etc.) and customers, and they largely operate within the
confines of their community.11 The close relationship between minority status and
economic underdevelopment is also evident in the fact that the prefecture with the
highest concentration of Turkish Muslims, Rhodope, is the poorest in the region and
in Greece.12
With time, the ghettoization of the minority in Thrace led it to strengthen its
ties and dependencies across the border; it therefore enhanced Turkey’s influence as a
custodian power and gave vantage and clout to the minority’s most nationalist
segments. Excluded from channels of economic participation and political
representation in Greece, the minority invested its savings abroad, especially in
Turkey, received secondary and higher education there, and sought to exercise
influence and pressure through the support of the ‘kin-state.’ Strongly rooted in the
multiple economic, social and educational ties the minority has developed over the
years across the border, Turkey’s patronage actively intensified in the 1980s. As the
minority crystallized its separate position, it transformed from a de jure ‘Muslim
minority’ to a de facto ‘ethnic minority’ that in the mid-1980s mobilized to claim a
common Turkish consciousness (Anagnostou 1999b: 128-139).
7 Even though the percentage of those working in agriculture in Thrace has been in steady decline over the past
fifteen years, it remains high compared to the average for the country, as well as compared to the average for the
EU. See CSF East Macedonia and Thrace 2000-2006, p.7.
8 The region’s GDP per capita is 79% of the average for the country (ranking 12th out of the 13 regions), 53,4% of
the average for the EU-15 and 58,6% for the EU-25. Eurostat 2001 data, cited in the Report of the Regional
Secretary of East Macedonia and Thrace, March 2005, p.13.
9 With respect to land ownership, even though Muslims make up about 50% of Ksanthi’s population they own
23% of the arable land and Christians own 71% of it. In Rhodope, Muslims make up 65% of the province’s
population and own 53,5% of the arable land, while 46.5% belongs to Christians. See I Anaptixi tis Anatolikis
Makedonias kai Thrakis, p.48.
10 I Anaptixi tis Anatolikis Makedonias kai Thrakis, Vol.1 (Athens: Commercial Bank of Greece, 1986), p. 238.
11 See I Anaptixi tis Thrakis (1995), p. 18 and p. 49.
12 Rhodope has a GDP per capita that is 62% of the average for the country, ranking at the very bottom of the
country’s 52 prefectures. See the Study on employment and the prospects of job creation in Rhodope-Evros,
Prefecture of Rhodope-Evros, Komotini, November 2004, pp. 14-15.
The socioeconomic exclusion of the minority from local and national society
in Greece in the post-1974 period, as well as social-cultural changes within the
community contributed to the progressive autonomization of minority politics by the
mid-1980s (Nikolakopoulos 2002, especially pp. 133-144). Internal political and
cultural tendencies within the minority in Thrace prior to the period of the Greek junta
had been defined by juxtaposition and antagonism between the traditional Muslim
religious leaders (palaiomousoulmanoi) and adherents of Kemalist secular reforms
(Divani 1995). The post-1974 period, however, witnessed the definitive waning of the
former segment and its displacement by the latter group. This transformation was
closely linked to the coming of age of a new generation of minority leaders who had
completed higher education in Turkey and whose consciousness and outlook had been
moulded by national ideas and political party ideologies in Turkey (Nikolakopoulos
2002: 134-5).
The relationship of Greek political parties with minority candidates was
characterized by distance and the logic of vote maximization mainly present during
pre-election periods. While the minority elected one or two representatives in the
Greek parliament on the ballot of the main national political parties, their participation
in the latter was largely marginal and token, as there was a cross-party consensus
about the overarching national interest to keep the minority disfranchised. As a
consequence, minority representatives had little loyalty to party positions and
ideology, while the benefits they could extract for their Muslim supporters were
limited to selective distribution of favours, i.e. like allowing the issuing of a driver’s
license for an individual (Dodos 1994: 34). The failure of Greek parties to challenge
the official state policy that restricted minority rights in the name of the Turkish threat
led to their “… complete dissociation from the party blocs and internal alignments
formed within the minority” (Nikolakopoulos 2002: 143). It therefore undermined
their ability to integrate minority members among their ranks and influence ethnic
Over time, their political marginalization and economic exclusion in Thrace
and Greece created a fertile ground for the radicalization of Muslims who in the 1980s
mobilized to protest curtailment of their rights and demand official recognition as a
‘Turkish minority’. It reached its apex in 1989-90 with the election of two
independent (from national political parties) minority representatives in the Greek
Parliament who rallied the support of the minority on the basis of Turkish nationalism
and solidarity with ‘motherland’ Turkey across the border. Turkey’s patronage has
provided support through advocacy and economic assistance, and operated through
the Turkish consulate in Komotini. It brings together minority leaders (mayors of
communes, members of the Prefecture Council, members of organizations, etc.) in the
unofficial Advisory Committee of the Minority (Simvouleftiki Epitropi Mionotitas),
which was formed in the 1980s and remains in place until the present.
In 1989-90, fifteen years after Greece’s transition to democracy, minority
politicization on the basis of Turkish nationalism compelled Greek political leaders to
reconsider their policy of exclusion and discrimination. Following minority protests
and inter-communal tensions in Thrace, they urgently met behind closed doors in
January 1990 to cope with the crisis. In the text produced in that meeting, they
recognised the need to abolish the restrictive measures (text appended in
Giannopoulos and Psaras 1990: 21). In his visit to Thrace in May 1991, Prime
Minister (PM) Konstantinos Mitsotakis declared an end to discrimination and a new
approach towards the minority based on “legal equality - equal citizenship”
(isonomia-isopolitia). This turnabout set in a process of liberalization of government
policy towards the minority of Thrace that culminated with the abolition of Article 19
of the Greek Citizenship Code in 1998 (Anagnostou 2005).
At the same time, a 1993 change in electoral law also introduced a 3%
threshold to enter parliament, an electoral percentage too high for the minority to
reach it, effectively precluding the election of independent representatives of the
minority. Since then, its parliamentary representatives are again elected on the ballot
of national political parties (the centre right ND, the socialist PASOK, and the Leftist
SYN) with their number ranging between one and three. No one among them has held
any government post. Presently, there is only one minority representative in the Greek
parliamentary from the ND party, Mr. Ilhan Ahmet.
The politicization of the minority and the redefinition of Greek policy towards
the latter in the early 1990s coincided with the intensification of EU integration
processes, following nearly a decade of government ambivalence regarding
membership in the EU. Increased resources from and the implementation of structural
funds enabled the Greek government to redress regional problems and minority
exclusion by launching an economic development strategy defined by the Community
Support Frameworks (CSFs) of the EU structural policy. At the same time, Greek
governments in the 1990s also undertook political and institutional reforms at the
regional, prefecture and local levels. Economic and political-institutional changes
both reflected and in turn reinforced a re-orientation in the priorities of regional policy
and the workings of local government in border areas. The next section of this report
describes the EU-related regional changes and the new conditions that they defined
for the political participation and economic mobilization of the minority in Thrace.
3. European integration, the minority and the domestic-regional context of
Since the early 1990s, EU integration established a context and set the stage for
fundamental political changes domestically, as well as for economic and institutional
reforms in Greek regions. It introduced a new set of opportunities and constraints for
less developed regional and local economies, including that of Thrace, with important
consequences for minority politics and its relations with majority and the state. Three
sets of factors were important in this respect.
In the first place, the broader processes of economic integration and
convergence that have tended to adversely affect peripheral regions like Thrace. As a
predominantly agricultural region, over the past ten years Thrace has been strongly
disaffected by the gradual decline in income supports and production quotas of the
EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Such decline has been particularly drastic
for products like tobacco, for which subsidies are to be entirely suspended by the year
2012. With more than two thirds of minority members living off agriculture, the
decline of CAP supports undermines their socioeconomic position and their living
standards. The problem is particularly acute in the northern mountainous areas in the
two prefectures under study which are not only agricultural but also mono-cultural
economies with a geography that does not render viable the growth of alternative
products other than tobacco. The changes in the CAP have placed pressures for
restructuring the region’s economy and its agricultural sector by engaging in
alternative kinds of cultivation and production.
Secondly, the inflow of EU structural funds, intended as a compensation for
regions likely to be placed at a disadvantage in the competitive European common
market (Hooghe 1996: 5), has provided resources to restructure Thrace’s economy.
The signing of the SEA and its overhaul in the second half of the 1980s had made
structural policy a more central component of the EU, doubling the resources
channelled to it. Given tight public finances and strong pressures to reduce public
spending in the 1990s as Greece was seeking to enter the EMU, it is questionable
whether in the absence of these funds, regional development policy would have been
viable at all (Andrikopoulou and Kafkalas 2004: 42). Finally, the growing concern
and standard setting activities of European institutions in human rights and minority
protection since the late 1980s, exposed national policies and practices to international
scrutiny and criticism, and began to influence government approach towards the
minority of Thrace.
Scholars have pointed to the difficulty of assessing the direct impact of EU
policies in the domestic sphere (Vermeersch 2003: 4). The EU rarely dictates specific
reforms, even when they have explicit procedural and institutional requirements like
structural policy, and even more so in areas such as minority protection in which it
does not have an internal policy. On the basis of empirical studies in a number of
different issue areas, Risse, Cowles and Caporaso carefully unravel the domestic
effects of Europeanization. European policies and processes are seen to exert
adaptational pressures, which are particularly pronounced in member states with
structures and policies that are highly divergent from those of the EU (Risse et al.
2001). Such pressures do not necessarily bring about domestic change though, and
even when they do, it is far from uniform across member states. Whether or not they
trigger domestic change depends on intervening factors at the domestic level that may
facilitate or conversely obstruct change: pre-existing domestic institutions, a country’s
organizational and policy-making culture, differential empowerment of national
actors and learning (Risse et al. 2001: 2).
One way to assess the EU impact at the national level is to consider the timing
of domestic changes, and whether it coincides with important changes and policy
initiatives at the European level. Furthermore, such impact can also be established by
assessing whether and the extent to which domestic actors utilize EU policies, rules
and norms in order to underpin, justify and legitimate domestic change and structural
reform (Vermeersch 2003: 4). Domestic actors may use European norms and policies
as an opportunity to further their goals and interests, or they may come to redefine
their interests and even identities in response to Europeanization. This usually
happens after critical policy failures or in perceived crisis (Risse et al. 2001: 11-12).
Even though Greece acceded to the EU in 1981, it was not until the 1990s that
national governments and leaders began to undertake reforms in response to pressures
emanating from EU integration. During the first decade of membership in the 1980s,
for most part Greek governments were at best ambivalent about the latter and on the
whole resisted adaptation and change (Marks 1997: 143). The dire condition of the
Greek economy at the end of the decade however, intensified pressures for economic
and institutional reforms. By 1990, the unquestionable acceptance of EU membership
by all Greek political parties eased domestic resistance to pressures emanating from it.
The advent to power of political leaders with a reformist agenda in the 1990s
facilitated domestic regional institutional and policy changes to converge with EU
policies and norms, and made possible a new approach to minority issues in Thrace.
The establishment (even if only in paper at the time) of thirteen administrative
regions in the late 1980s in Greece coincided, not accidentally, with the overhaul of
the EU structural policy, and marked the onset of a new set of subnational reforms in
the country. With emphasis on partnership between European, national and
subnational authorities, the overhaul of structural funds in 1988-89 presupposed the
existence of subnational structures competent to implement the Regional
Development Programmes (RDP) of the CSFs (Community Support Frameworks)
(Christofilopoulou 1997: 52). In this sense, they made it imperative to put in place
new institutions and modernize existing ones as to render them capable of engaging in
regional development planning (Verney 1994; Featherstone and Yannopoulos 1996).
Already the experience of the Integrated Mediterranean Programs (IMPs) in the
second half of the 1980s, a precursor to the EU structural policy, had pointed to the
endemic weaknesses of the country’s centralized structures to implement integrated
development projects (Papageorgiou and Verney 1992). With the doubling of
structural funds in 1988-89 and Greece’s inclusion under Objective 1 areas, domestic
regional and administrative reform could no longer be shunned.
Introduced in 1994, the reforms transformed the prefecture from an arm of the
central administration into an institution of local government with a directly elected
prefect and Prefecture Council,13 which became recipient of increased funding under
the CSF.14 Laws 2218/1994 and subsequently 2503/1997 also upgraded and expanded
the role of the 13 administrative regions (dioikitikes perifereies) (Chlepas 1999: 170-
1). Each established its own Regional Development Fund to participate as partner in
formulating regional policy and administering national and European projects and
funds. The reforms of the 1990s arguably paved the way for the transformation of the
13 regions into decentralised units of administration and governance (Chlepas 1999:
186). The latest wave of territorial reform in 1999, the “Kapodistrias Plan” initiated a
massive reconstitution, merging fragmented local governments units into larger
entities of administration and local government in order to enhance their capacity and
promote their more active role in development (Chlepas 1999: 399).15
To be sure, growing demands for, and attempted reforms towards
decentralization in Greece pre-dated the overhaul of EU structural funds. As it was
discussed in the state of the art report, reform initiatives during the 1980s had sought
to redistribute power between central and local level by providing for partly elected
prefecture councils. The latter though were largely geared towards empowering local
party structures rather than adapting to the EU, and in any case, they were curtailed
due to resistance from entrenched party and national interests (Ioakimidis 1996: 348;
Christofilopoulou 1997).
Structural funds no doubt served as stimulus for the regional reforms of the
1990s, which, however, were facilitated by domestic party-policy commitments and
were a response to strong endogenous demands (Ioakimidis 1996: 348). Prefecture
self-government was arguably, largely a victory of middle-level party cadres of
PASOK and their assertion vis-à-vis the central government and party leadership in
the 1990s (Chlepas 1999: 343; Christofilopoulou 1997: 56). They reflected a new
generation of political cadre who came of age in the post-1974 period, and who
acquired growing consciousness around local problems and a strong interest in
strengthening local party structures through some decentralization of power.
13 Law 2218/1994, Idrisi Nomarchiakis Aftodioikisis kai Tropopioisi gia tin Protovathmia Aftodioikisi kai
Perifereia 1994.
14 In 1991-5 such funding more than tripled in Rhodope and Ksanthi. Data from the prefectures of Ksanthi,and
Rhodope Division of Planning and Investment. The main prefecture fund was SANA (Silogiki Apofasi
Nomarchiakis Aftodiikisis).
15 This is one of the central conclusions of a study conducted by the “Andreas Papandreou Foundation,”
(Kathimerini, 14 January 2001: 8-9).
By the 1990s, the advent to power of centre-right New Democracy and that of
Kostas Simitis to the leadership of the governing Socialist party PASOK signalled the
ascent of Europeanized segments that set Greece’s convergence with the EU as the
overarching priority. The comeback of PASOK to power with a fresh mandate in
1993 presented an opportune moment to bypass opposition and launch what have
been characterized as groundbreaking regional reforms. While the EU did not
mandate regional reforms, it nonetheless provided the normative and material
resources for leaders to conceptualize and legitimate them. Reformers placed regional
changes in the frame of the Community Support Frameworks and depicted them as a
major step towards institutional and economic modernization, which for a country in
the periphery like Greece is the essence of Europeanization (Featherstone 1998).
Besides offering an opportunity for national leaders to push for change and
pursue their goals, EU structural funds arguably also set in unintentionally a learning
process, in the course of which local actors redefined their interests. In a highly
centralized state like Greece, the implementation of the IMPs in the second half of the
1980s raised local awareness about power relations vis-à-vis the central state (Verney
and Papageorgiou 1992: 126). Their firm control by the centre obstructed local
authorities and interest group participation and heightened local awareness about the
need to mobilize in the design and planning of regional policy (Papageorgiou and
Verney 1992). The prefecture reforms of the 1980s were also instrumental in
mounting local support for further decentralization, as well as for the EU to acquire
greater responsibilities in the development of disadvantaged areas (Verney and
Papageorgiou 1992: 126-8).
In sum, EU structural policy prompted reform of subnational institutions in
Greece by enabling national leaders and empowered party and local actors to
overcome opposition and pursue their interests. It provided a normative frame
stressing partnership and subsidiarity, to which domestic actors appealed in order to
promote some decentralization of the highly centralized Greek state. This is not to say
that structural funds brought about any large-scale decentralization in Greece. In fact,
it has been argued that the accompanying emphasis on decentralization and local
development has been mainly rhetorical, underpinned by the Community ‘paradigm’
of deregulation, and driven but the need to reduce central state spending rather than to
promote regionalization (Andrikopoulou and Kafkalas 2004: 40). Nonetheless, the
reforms of the 1990s initiated some transfer of competences from the central to the
subnational level, and widened the participation of local actors in development
processes within the CSFs (Ioannides and Petrakos 2000: 46). Furthermore, in
establishing systematic contacts of local authorities with the EU, structural funds
implementation brought the latter closer to local society and made it less remote
(Ioakimidis 1996).
In empowering local government through the Kapodistrias plan and
democratizing politics at the prefecture by transforming it into an elected institution,
regional reforms have expanded opportunities for the minority to influence resource
distribution at the prefecture and enhanced its political status. Furthermore, they have
introduced, largely unintentionally, a new logic in local and prefecture politics guided
by development and democracy, which came into conflict with the previously
unquestionable priority of Greek national unity that prevailed in sensitive border areas
like Thrace.
Regional and prefecture authorities have to operate within parameters defined
in reference to economic development priorities and social cohesion objectives
(domestic as much as European), rather than exclusively in consideration of Greek
nationalist imperatives. This has inserted considerable pressures to distance regional
policies and local politics from traditional nationalist interests and foreign policy
considerations as these are reflected in the practices of the Cultural Affairs Office of
the Foreign Ministry. As an elected body, the Prefecture Council could no longer
easily acquiesce with the latter and has been compelled to find ways to eschew
ministerial prerogatives when these threaten to undermine the implementation of
regional plans and the receipt of European transfers. While the Cultural Affairs Office
continues to have one of its high ranking officials placed in Ksanthi and in Kavala, its
role is arguably significantly downgraded, even if not abolished. Even though
minority affairs continue to be under central government supervision as this is
embodied in the office of the General Secretary of the Region, this is now legitimated
in the language of equal rights and democracy.
The change in the traditional nationalist approach to the development of
ethnically mixed border regions was for the first time signaled with the Findings of
the Inter-party Committee for Border Regions submitted to the Greek Parliament in
1992, which had cross-party consensus.16 In marked departure from the militaristic
language frequently employed in the case of Thrace, the Findings called for regional
development as ‘armour’ for defence against the threat of secessionism, through
upgrading the local economy, reducing inequalities between Christians and Muslims
and promoting social and economic integration. For the first time, the minority was
depicted as a resource rather than a threat or burden, and its integration as a
precondition for the region’s development (I Anaptiksi tis Thrakis – Prokliseis kai
Prooptikes 1994). EU structural funds did not motivate or in any way lead the
government to adopt this new approach but they made it possible to put to practice a
comprehensive policy of regional development and to firmly anchor the minority
issue within it.
Changes at the intersection of regional reform and the new integrative
approach to minority rights in Thrace triggered powerful reactions among local and
nationalist constituencies, which declared prefecture self-government 'superficial and
nationally perilous'. Pointing to the minority inhabiting it, they alarmingly warned that
it would 'fragment the state' and strengthen Turkish nationalism, as it made it possible
to elect a Muslim prefect in Ksanthi and Rhodope (Kontos and Pavlou 1994; Marinos
1994). To pre-empt this possibility and the consolidation of a Muslim-governed area,
the law on prefecture local government was modified in the case of Ksanthi and
Rhodope, which were placed in a special category of so-called “enlarged prefectures”
(dievrimenes nomarchies) (Law 2218/94, Article 40). Essentially a form of
gerrymandering targeting the minority, in effect, it incorporated the largely Muslim
prefectures of Ksanthi and Rhodope to the Christian-populated prefectures of Kavala
and Evros respectively, thereby consolidating two predominantly Christian areas and
pre-empting the election of a Muslim prefect. Recently, the nomination by PASOK of
a female from the minority to run for prefect of the enlarged prefecture of Ksanthi-
Kavala in the upcoming elections has triggered storming reactions from a large
segment of the local and national media and political elite.
Besides “enlarged prefectures”, the expanded opportunities for local and
minority participation and influence are also constrained by what can be called
“curtailed prefectures”. Presently, the role of prefecture institutions and the resources
that they possess, appear to fall short of the initial goal of the 1994 reform to
16 Findings of the Inter-party Committee for Border Regions, Greek Parliament, Athens, 14 February 1992.
Appended in I Anaptixi tis Anatolikis Makedonias kai Thrakis (1995).
decentralize extensively central powers and functions to the prefecture. Instead of the
latter, the bulk of these functions and powers have actually been transferred to the
regional administration, a centralized institution headed by the Regional Secretary,
who is appointed by the central government. Comprising of the region’s prefects and
representatives of LGBs (Local Government Bodies, that is, municipalities and
communes), producers’ associations, and others, the regional council that is
responsible for participating in the drafting of the Regional Development Program is a
weak and largely inactive body. No minority members participate in the latter, thus
the minority cannot influence the distribution of funds in the region or the formulation
of development plans for the region.
Greek governments have defended the integrating approach to Thrace’s
minority against nationalist pressures and continued to liberalize minority rights in
reference as much to democratic principles as to European norms. In legitimating the
restitution of minority rights against domestic opposition, Greek governments referred
to the adoption of liberal democratic principles and equality for all citizens as proof
for the country’s status as a modern country of the EU. In his speech in Thrace during
the pre-election period in 2004, the chair of ND at the time and Greece’s current
Prime Minister Mr. Karamanlis referred to the government’s policy emphasizing
minority integration and equality as modern, being defined by a ‘European logic’.17
The liberalization of minority rights in Greece coincided, not accidentally,
with the growing activism of European institutions around human rights and minority
protection in the 1990s (Anagnostou 2005). The EU has not had any internal policy
on the latter but only external as the protection of human rights and minorities is
included in the Copenhagen conditions for membership. Nonetheless, Greece found
itself in an awkward position in European forums: as the EU was asking candidate
states from Central-East and Southeast European countries to protect minorities,
Greece’s record in this respect was far from spotless (Aarbbake 2003; Heraclides
1996). Furthermore, Greece’s treatment of Thrace’s Muslims became a target of
growing criticisms in the Council of Europe (CoE) and minority organizations such as
the Federation of the Turks of Thrace frequently brought their grievances in it
(Hersant 2000: 37-40). In a number of cases, individuals from the minority have also
appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg in claiming violation
of their right to religious freedom, freedom of expression or assembly. All this created
an international climate critical of national practices, influencing member states,
including Greece, through what has been called ‘shaming’ (Moravscik 1995).
While prompted by Greece’s membership in the EU, regional reforms, as
much as the liberalization of the rights of Thrace’s Muslims were actually facilitated
by the Europeanization of domestic political and government elites in the 1990s.
Greek governments became particularly sensitive about the country’s relations with
and overall performance in the EU. Greece began to thoroughly depend on structural
funds that comprised a considerable influx of resources for her ailing economy, and
was eager to dispel her hitherto reputation as an uncommitted member of the Union.
The view that respect for human rights and minorities was indispensable in promoting
Greece’s national interests in Europe began to gain ground among domestic political
elites and across political parties. The next two sections of this report examine the
impact of regional reforms and minority integration on the interests and identity of
Greek Christians and Turkish Muslims, as well as on their politics in Thrace.
17 For a full text of the speech, see the party’s website
4. Political participation, socio-economic development and ethnic politics in
In the previous section, we argued that EU integration provided a context that directly
and indirectly prompted national governments in Greece to pursue political and
economic integration of the Turkish Muslim minority at the regional-local level.
Drawing from the original hypotheses of EUROREG, we examine the claim that the
liberalization of the rights of Turkish Muslims and the reforms in local and prefecture
government structures and regional development frames reinforce redefinition of their
politics and identity, as well as of their relations with the Greek Christian majority in
Thrace. In particular, in the next two sections we explore the following hypotheses:
that in the context of these changes, minority and majority shift their interests and
demands in the direction of pursuing regional integration and inter-communal
cooperation as opposed to ethnic community separation; that the minority increasingly
advances demands for social-economic integration as opposed to ethnic identification;
that there is a challenge to nationalism and for the minority weakening of its ties with
‘motherland’ Turkey across the border.
The influx of structural funds, as described in the previous section, presented
an opportunity for Greek governments in the 1990s to adopt a development politics in
Thrace. With the comeback of the Socialist party PASOK such a politics was
launched in the frame of the newly instituted prefecture self-government and aimed at
minority integration in the region. As the former prefect (for two terms) of Rhodope
stated, “the new development politics that we introduced vis-à-vis the minority was an
initiative of the prefecture and local self-government. We attempted to implement a
politics of rapprochement vis-à-vis the minority, which was premised upon the right
to and respect for the individual, and the right to religious identity, and
simultaneously, of course, upon respect for the laws of the Greek state” (R31)18. The
same approach has no less been employed by the centre-right New Democracy. All of
our interviewees from the Greek Christian majority, regardless of the political party to
which they belong, advocated it and condemned the previous discriminatory measures
(R13, R19, R31, R18, R21). In capturing the magnitude and significance of this
change, one of the minority’s political figures remarked that “today some Christians
adopt positions that would previously be considered close to national treason” (R26).
The transformation of the Prefecture Council into a directly elected institution
democratized politics around it and provided for the participation and representation
of the minority. Prefecture self-government introduced strong pressures to show
responsiveness to local problems dividing the two communities. With an interest in
attracting the Muslim vote, the prefects and the Prefecture Council began to make
efforts to tackle the glaring disparities between the northern Muslim and the southern
Christian areas (Anagnostou 2001; R14). Even though there is no data to document
this, most of our Greek Christian informants who are local government officials
disclosed that for the past ten years there has been an implicit and unofficial policy to
channel funds and undertake development projects in Muslim-inhabited areas. The
introduction of prefecture self-government in 1994 also paved the way for closer
cooperation of Christians and Muslims in local party structures and politics. Greek
political parties sought to attract minority candidates in prefecture and local elections
18 An anonymous list of the informants interviewed can be found in the appendix of this report.
and in this way incorporate them in the decentralized structures. In the prefecture of
Rhodope ten out of twenty five members of the prefecture council are Turkish
Muslims and in Ksanthi three out of twenty five.
The ability of subnational institutions to engage in development was further
enhanced with the Kapodistrias reform in 1999 that merged small communes into
larger municipalities in the first degree of local government. With this reform, LGBs
are better endowed with resources from the national budget, and can also pursue
additional funds from the CSFs. The minority elects its representatives at the local
level as members of municipal councils, mayors and presidents of communes. Since
the 1990s, the political status of local representatives has been enhanced by the
creation of larger municipalities. In the prefecture of Ksanthi the vice-prefect, one
mayor (of Myki; the prefecture includes six municipalities in total), and four
presidents of communes (Thermes, Kotylis, Satres, Selero) are from the minority. In
the prefecture of Rhodope, the vice-prefect, four mayors (Arriana, Sappes, Sostis, and
Fillyra; the prefecture includes nine municipalities in total), and three presidents of
communes (Kechros, Amaksades, and Organi) are also Muslims.
At the same time though, the ongoing existence of communes in Thrace, a
phenomenon rare in other parts of Greece, which represents the weak tier of local
government inherited from the previous system, is exclusively found in Muslim-
inhabited areas. In lacking the human capital or know-how to pursue and implement
projects, the communes are unable to take advantage of the development resources
available through CSFs. In this respect, the CSFs appear to have a paradoxical effect,
creating a further divide between on the one hand the large municipalities and urban
areas, both majority and minority inhabited, that benefit from them and prosper, and
on the other hand the mountainous minority-inhabited communes that remain isolated
and marginalised, unable to partake in the overall development process of the
In fact, despite the increased inflow of development funds in Thrace and the
inclusion of minority representatives in local and prefecture government structures,
the integration of Turkish Muslims in the region’s economy has until now been
limited. The construction of large public works, such as the Egnatia highway, as well
as smaller ones such as the building of sewage and water supply systems no doubt
upgraded the region’s infrastructure and in this sense had a positive impact on the
entire population. The minority’s socioeconomic position, however, remains
vulnerable due to the decline of agricultural subsidies and their gradual elimination in
tobacco production. Despite increased funds, subnational authorities have not been
able to redress the most pressing issue which is the need to create alternative forms of
occupation and cultivation that can substitute tobacco. Even though there is no
systematic data to document this, there is little doubt that the bulk of the funds from
the three CSFs have gone into the Christian-inhabited areas to the south as opposed to
the Muslim-inhabited areas of the north in the two prefectures. This is in large part
due to the fact that the former had better infrastructure to begin with and was thus in a
more advantageous position to make use of the funds, in contrast to the northern
mountainous areas inhabited by the minority. In the latter, funds have been used to put
in place basic infrastructure such asphalted roads and water supply systems.
Despite enhanced opportunities to do so, until recently there was limited
minority participation also in development programs targeting individual small-scale
19 As we explain in more detail below, our minority informants provide support to this view by testifying that very
little has changed in the mountainous areas and generally that the minority has not benefited much from the EU
funds except for CAP subsidies (R1, R2, R27, R29, R16 among others).
entrepreneurs to receive grants in order to start a business, expand it, or upgrade it.20
Largely funded through the CSF, these operate on a competitive basis and are
allocated through a process of proposal submission, evaluation, and approval. In the
past few years, the limited engagement of the minority in development projects
became a matter of concern for Greek authorities, particularly in light of the
suspension of CAP tobacco quotas and subsidies by the year 2009, and they have
undertaken more concerted efforts to incorporate minority individuals. According to
data provided by the political office of Ilhan Ahmet, the minority’s national
representative in the Greek parliament, the participation of the minority in two EU
funded programs for individual entrepreneurs was between 0-4% but it began to
somewhat increase by 2005 to 7,5% and 10% (Komotini, 26 August 2005).
Furthermore, in the last CSF, particular emphasis is given to the need to reduce intra-
regional inequalities with interventions and development measures targeting the less
advantaged areas, many of which are inhabited by the minority.21
As noted by many informants, the disparity in funding allocation between the
Christian south and the Muslim north, as well as the limited inclusion of minority
individuals in programs can be attributed to the legacy of socioeconomic exclusion, as
well as to specific social characteristics of the Muslim community. Given their past
economic marginalization and their occupation in tobacco production, most lack the
necessary additional private capital required by programs. Furthermore, minority
inhabitants in the mountainous north lack proper land ownership titles, a condition for
participation in development programs. A number of our minority informants attribute
the aforementioned disparity to purposeful or implicit discrimination on the part of
Greek authorities. They point to the fact that information and guidance from the
central and local authorities was directed on purpose to the majority population and
social actors. Minority business people and organisations were not contacted at all or
were informed about funding opportunities a few days before the deadline expired
(R28, R10).
Notwithstanding persistent (real or perceived) disparities, the participation and
representation of the minority participates in local and prefecture institutions
significantly influences community perceptions in prompting a more self-critical
reflection on the part of Turkish Muslims. Most of our informants among the latter
and nearly all of those, who are representatives in local government or producers’
associations, claim that the failure of minority members to mobilize in development
programs is largely due to “a combination of mentality, weakness and general
deprivation” (R33; see also R25). Others attribute it to a general attitude of passivity
and reluctance to take financial risks (R11, R23), as well as the lack of skills,
guidance and information in preparing and submitting proposal for investment (R29,
R15). As one of our interviewees noted, instead “of constantly accusing the ‘other’, it
is essential to do some self-criticism as well. If minority members act with self-
confidence, and put some effort in getting informed, they would be able to benefit
from such funds equally” (R2).
Prefecture institutional reforms are widely perceived to have been central in
the political integration of Turkish Muslims as equal citizens. It is notable that more
than two thirds of our interviewees from both communities linked the enhanced
20 Besides the Regional Operational Program of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace from the CSF (by far the largest in
size), these include URBAN (approved only for the municipality of Komotini), LEADER, the Cohesion Fund
(national scale of the CSF, approved only for the municipality of Komotini), OPAACH (Integrated Program for
the Development of Rural Areas) and EQUAL (for socially disadvantaged groups).
21 See Report by the General Secretary of Region of EMT, March 2005, p.39.
political participation and representation of the minority to the reforms of prefecture
self-government and the strengthening of local government. These reforms seem to
have had a significant impact in consolidating the status of minority members as equal
citizens, and in imbuing among them a sense of trust towards Greek state institutions
(R34, R33, R26 R14, R9, R24). As a minority member of the Ksanthi prefecture
council stated:
“Things have definitely improved since the application of the law that
provides for the election of local administration… People trust our local
administration. They feel close to our mayors and to our Prefect who is
extremely active and sensitive towards our issues. You regularly see him
going around from town to town, talking to people, Christians or Muslims,
and asking for their problems. This is not only due to his personality but
also to the new law that allows us to elect our administration. … Today,
the citizen feels more comfortable because he is treated better, he is served
by the state and the public services…” (R33)
There is widespread support among our interviewees for decentralization from
both minority and majority. Yet, such convergence of views does not seem to take any
political expression or translate into any joint initiative between the two groups. Most
likely, such expressed support for decentralization is abstract and does not reflect any
joint inter-communal interest along regional lines. It is likely that the curtailment of
prefecture government competences over the past couple of years and their transfer to
regional administration, together with the ongoing existence of enlarged prefectures
described in the previous section, is a step ‘backwards’, sustaining minority
scepticism and mistrust towards the Greek state and the Christian majority political
representatives. Despite shortcomings and remaining problems, leaders of the
minority acknowledge that a process of integration has been under way since the
1990s. Nearly all Muslim informants agree that their political and civil rights as equal
citizens are fully restored, but that this is not the case with their minority rights.
Despite enhanced opportunities for economic and political participation of the
minority though, its politics on the basis of ethnic Turkish identity has far from
declined, challenging earlier views that had depicted ethnic divisions and differences
to fade away with national integration (Deutsch 1953). To be sure, the intransigent
nature of Turkish nationalism that characterized the politics of Thrace’s minority in
the 1980s and early 1990s seems to have lost its élan. At the same time, its claims for
cultural and religious community rights appear to increasingly resurface over the past
10 years; the most prominent demand today is recognition of the minority’s ethnic
Turkish character as reflected in the banning of its associations bearing the word
‘Turkish’ in their name (described in the next section). This prompts us to inquire into
the nature and resilience of Turkish ethnicity, which is not merely a set of joint
cultural ties; in fact, the minority under study is internally a culturally diverse
community comprising of Turkish, Slav-speaking and Roma sub-groups. Instead,
Turkish ethnicity must be understood as a historically constituted, dense and strongly
entrenched set of institutions, interests and cultural ties (Cornell 1996) that has come
to define and set the parameters of minority politics in Thrace.
The 1993 electoral law change effectively undermined the independent
minority ballot, which gave voice to Turkish nationalism, yet there is a basic
leadership core that remains closely aligned to the hegemonic political line and
ideology of ‘motherland’ Turkey. The Turkish consulate in Komotini embodies the
latter and serves as the physical and political space for this core minority leadership
that comes together to form an unofficial body called Advisory Committee of the
minority. Bringing together the mayors of the minority, members of the prefecture
councils, religious representatives, presidents of minority associations and
parliamentary deputies, the Advisory Committee coordinates and makes decisions
about the political orientation to be pursued by the minority. According to estimates
of our interviewees, this committee comprises between twenty-nine and thirty-one
individuals. Even though difficult to assess, the extent to which the minority aligns
behind its decisions and the candidates that it promotes is a good indicator for the
degree to which minority politics is defined by Turkish nationalism and ‘motherland’
Turkey as its centre of gravity. The Advisory Committee (Simvouleftiki Epitropi) can
be characterized as a core group that enjoys either the open support or at least the tacit
acquiescence of a dominant section of the minority.
The basic goal of the Committee, which is a non-elected and unofficial body,
is the pursuit of minority rights while it is less interested in and vocal about
development issues. It demands official recognition as a Turkish minority, as well as
community election of its religious leaders (muftis), which are discussed in the
following section. Notable is the nearly universal support for the right to ethnic self-
definition among our Muslim informants, which is discussed in the next section. It is
as much advanced by leaders close to the Turkish consulate and the politics of
‘motherland’ Turkey, as it is by others who are critical of and take distances from the
latter, and as much among the older as among the younger generations. “With the
issue of ethnicity though, that is with the self-definition of the [Turkish] associations,
there is a problem. It may be largely symbolic, nonetheless it remains serious…
regardless of the political views one has, there is nothing else one can say on this
other than that this issue has to end” (R24).
Being a continuation of the independent minority politics of the late 1980s and
early 1990s, the politics advanced by the Advisory Committee projects a traditional
conception of ethnic community that displays solidarity and has control over its
cultural and political affairs, as well as loyalty to the Turkish nation-state. Besides the
undeniably strong cultural ties, the persistence of the hegemonic role of the Turkish
consulate of Komotini and the Advisory Committee also stem from the multitude of
interests and dependencies tying the minority to Turkey. The role of the latter as a
protecting power was institutionalized with the Lausanne Treaty and has become
thoroughly entrenched through a series of agreements flowing from the latter. Besides
a core group of leaders, whose political clout and reputation rely on support by
authorities across the border, a large segment among the community has bought
property and studies in Turkey, as described earlier in this report.
Even though in the context of changes over the past 15 years, minority
members have increasingly joined Greek political parties as candidates in local,
prefecture or national elections, they do not have any consistent and stable affiliation
with the latter. Their political-ideological differences appear to fade away as they
come together in the aforementioned committee on the basis of ethnic Turkish
identity. Many among Turkish Muslims perceive a fundamental incompatibility
between belonging to a Greek political party and being able to represent the interests
of the minority (R27, R29). There is a lingering mistrust that several minority
members feel towards Greek political parties, who deny or shy away from
acknowledging the right to self-definition as an ethnic Turkish minority.
Nonetheless, while minority alignment with Greek political parties is largely
instrumental, tentative and circumstantial rather than lasting (R7), the inclusion and
cooperation of Turkish Muslims with them is relatively greater now than in the past.
While isolated and low-key, there have been growing intra-communal criticisms of
the Advisory Committee, which are at least partly linked to the closer ties some
minority members have developed with political parties through their participation in
local-prefecture institutions. There are a number of examples of minority
‘disobedience’ to its recommendations, i.e. about who to vote in national elections,
over the past ten years, which merit closer attention. Over the past ten years, at least
two of the minority members who were elected in the Greek parliament on the ballot
of national political parties did not have the support of this Committee, which had
instead recommended that the minority cast its votes for other candidates that it had
designated. One of those former Greek parliamentary representatives has refused to
participate in the latter on grounds that it is a non-elected body, while another one has
refused to preside over it.
The overwhelming hold that the Advisory Committee and Turkey appear to
have over the community and its politics also conceals a growing diversification of
views regarding the content and meaning that minority members have tended to
attribute to Turkish identity and its political expression. Some individuals, particularly
among the younger generation, are critical of the monolithic and homogeneous kind
of ethnic community that the Advisory Committee and its politics reflects but also
seeks to impose. In reference to the massive community support that Mr. Sadik
enjoyed in the 1990s, one of our informants remarked that “unity was also the product
of oppression”, but “now it is harder to keep the minority united” (R7). Some of the
younger minority members are also critical of this Committee in so far as it puts forth
inter-state agreements as the overarching frame for addressing minority rights. While
the Lausanne Treaty and the inter-state agreements that emanate from it remain the
unquestionable frame for minority protection, some consider them overly restrictive.
One of our younger informants expressed discontent with those advocating strict
adherence to the educational protocols between Greece and Turkey: “this whole
mentality upsets me because it implies that after all these years we are still a
community totally dependent on Greece and Turkey, and we are not even capable of
discussing what is good or bad for our own educational system” (R14).
To be sure, intra-communal criticisms are not an open challenge to the
Committee, nor do they form any alternative and coherent minority politics.
Nonetheless, such criticisms are significant because they may foreshadow important
even if latent social-cultural changes within the Turkish Muslim community. A
careful study has attributed the strength of the Committee’s leadership core that is
connected to the Turkish consulate of Komotini, to the socialization of a whole
generation of minority members in institutions of higher education in Turkey
(Nikolakopoulos 2002). It would be interesting to see what will happen as a new
generation of minority members who since 1998 study in Greek universities, comes of
age. Since 1998, and within the frame of a government policy of minority integration,
a Greek law established a quota for the entry of minority students in Greek
universities and several hundreds of them now study in or have recently graduated
from the latter.
While broad community support for its Turkish character appears to reflect
continuity with the ‘old’ ethnic nationalist politics of the past, there are important
elements that suggest the potential rise of a ‘new’ minority politics. In the first place,
our interviews revealed an unmistakable and widespread minority quest for
integration in Greek society. This can be inferred from the widely expressed view
among our Muslim interviewees that the minority’s limited incorporation in
development projects is in part due to its own shortcomings related to mentality,
reluctance to be extrovert and to break away from the narrow community shell, as
well as lack of information and communication. This report suggests that the
participation of Muslims in local and prefecture institutions as well as the
opportunities to mobilize in regional development projects appear to have nurtured
such a realization. Recognition of the need to overcome their own shortcomings and
change their mentality is at least in part reflected in the profound concern and interest
of the minority in its education, which is considered to be the most important issue.
There is an abundance of data showing low levels of education and literacy, as well as
high drop out rates of students in Thrace. In Rhodope in particular, about 67% of
minority children quit school early, as a consequence of which the literacy rate in the
mountainous areas is as high as 40%.22
What is ‘new’ in the emerging kind of minority politics in Thrace is that the
assertion of its ethnic Turkish character appears to go hand in hand with the quest for
integration in Greek society. While ten years ago the latter would be considered an
unacceptable concession to the Greek state’s wish to assimilate the Muslim
community, today it is increasingly seen as precondition for the effective pursuit of its
interests and survival: “if our aim is to attain minority rights, we shall not leave this to
those who are unable to express themselves in Greek” (R14). Leaders from the hard
core group of Turkish nationalists as much as individuals from the minority’s younger
cohorts advocate the need to acquire good knowledge of Greek alongside education in
Turkish (R14, R16). Learning Greek and achieving a higher level of education is also
seen as a means for one’s own socio-economic advancement (R30). It is notable that
individuals who emphasize integration and are critical of nationalism tend to be those
who have managed to advance socio-economically (R7, R23, R14) At the same time,
one interviewee from the minority also advocates positive discrimination measures in
order to achieve integration: “the problem is not the existence of negative
discrimination but the non-implementation of measures of positive discrimination that
would accelerate the integration of minority businesses in EU programs” (R22).
As far as the European context is concerned, local minority actors also refer to
the importance is the European frame of human rights. Human rights norms are seen
to have influenced Greek government policy towards the minority and to have acted
as an external constraint against nationalism and discriminatory measures
domestically. There is an overwhelming perception among the minority of the EU as
an external guarantee for their rights, despite its shortcomings, as well as a guarantee
against nationalism and an alternative to the nation-state (R7, R26, R10, R22, R17,
R17 among others.) Local minority actors view the EU as an external frame that
guarantees their rights, restrains Greek governments and ensures the irreversibility of
By virtue of the fact that it is a multi-cultural sphere, the EU, unlike the
nation-state, appears to validate the minority cultural demands and ethnic claims for
community self-determination. In both of these respects, the EU provides a way out of
the constraints of the nation-state. The minority displays greater trust for the EU than
it does for the Greek state but not nearly as much as it does for Turkey. The latter is
considered by most of our informants as a more reliable external guarantor when
compared to the EU, which has not actively defended its rights as ardently and
consistently as Turkey (R24, also R26). Nonetheless, even informants who are highly
critical of the EU and perceive its role in protecting minorities as ambivalent and
22 See the Study on employment and job creation prospects in the prefectures of Rhodope-Evros, Komotini,
November 2004, p.17.
pretentious still want to be part of it, because “[they] do not want to be locked in a
cage that is the nation-state” (R6).
By virtue of the fact that it is a multi-cultural and multi-national entity, the EU
also seems to have made more acceptable cultural and ethnic differences within states,
without, however, eliminating national divisions. Not few Christian Greeks among
our informants concede that “Christians have realized that the new status quo could
not be analyzed in terms of the nation-state any more. We had to become more open-
minded and less focused on our small national reality if we wanted to get closer to the
Germans, English, etc.” (R13, see also R18). At the same time, the demand for
Turkish self-definition and recognition is a major source of division between the two
communities, strongly opposed by the majority of Christian Greeks who see in it
defiance of the status quo and a prelude to the revision of state borders (R20). In
general, our Greek Christian informants tend to talk about a Muslim minority, with
the rare exception of less than a handful of individuals who acknowledge the
minority’s right to self-definition as a Turkish minority.
Interestingly, both minority and majority interviewees seem to believe that the
EU should assume greater responsibilities in a region like Thrace and develop into an
entity beyond an economic union in order not to disillusion people. At the same time,
there is considerable scepticism about the EU among the minority and majority alike,
which did not exist ten years ago. The minority is critical of what it perceives as EU
reluctance to intervene on behalf of minorities in member states, while on the contrary
it puts forth their protection as a hard condition in the accession process of Turkey.
The minority is strongly in favour of full membership for the latter. Another source of
Euro-skepticism emerging among the minority is the decline of agricultural subsidies,
which some see as proof of the primarily economic nature of the EU that gives voice
to the interests of strong states like the UK. Generally, most interviewees among both
groups expressed a sense of disappointment about the EU in the aftermath of the
negative votes in the referenda on the constitutional treaty, considering this as a step
backwards and a victory of nationalists.
5. Changing cultural and political demands of the minority
Although it may seem paradoxical, our interviews show that minority and majority
actors agree as to what are the main minority political and cultural claims. They
diverge in their prioritization of these (also minority representatives may have
different views about the importance of each issue) and in the solutions that they see
as plausible.
The main minority political claims are clearly defined and stated on various
occasions by minority representatives, not least in our interviews: the election of the
Mufti directly by the minority population; the management of the Vakf (religious)
property of their community; and the right to define themselves collectively as a
Turkish ethnic minority.23 The main cultural demand of the minority is further reform
and improvement in the minority education system.24
23 For more information on these issues see Tsitselikis (1999), Paraskevopoulou (2002),.
24 For more information on the minority education issue see Baltsiotis (1997) and for a critical appraisal
of the implementation of the recent reforms see Androusou (2002), Askouni (2002) and Dragonas
The aforementioned demands have been systematically advanced since the
1980s. What is relevant for the research focus of our study here, is the ways in which
minority and majority members perceive their citizenship rights, their ethnic and
national identity and their belonging (or not belonging) to Europe. These changes are
directly related to the change in the policy of the Greek state towards the minority
(see previous sections and Anagnostou and Triandafyllidou 2004 for details) but also
to the new European context and the new identity space (Triandafyllidou and Spohn
2003) that the European Union offers for minority and majority respondents.
In this section we shall consider the ethnic, national and European identity
understandings among the minority and the majority respondents, how these are
reflected in the formulation of the political and cultural claims of the minority today
and also, more concretely, how new courses of action undertaken by the minority as
regards the recognition of its ethnic Turkish character reflect a new dimension of
minority political mobilisation beyond the national state framework.
Ethnic, national and European identities and the political demands of the minority
One cannot discuss the political and cultural demands of the minority without taking
into account the way in which minority and majority members understand the notion
of ethnic and national identity and the way they perceive their rights and obligations
as citizens.
A large part of Greek citizens confuses the terms ethnic and national
identity.25 In Greek language the term ethnikos is used to refer to both national and
ethnic issues as if there cannot be a separate level of identity and action that refers to
ethnic matters, but not to national matters. In this work, we propose a working
definition of ethnicity:26 an ethnic group is a population that shares a common
consciousness, a belief in common ancestry, links with a historic territory that is
defined as their homeland, common customs and traditions and a common language.
A nation shares all the above characteristics plus sovereignty over a specific territory
and a high degree of political autonomy and/or its own independent state.
Following from these definitions, the ethnic character of the Muslim minority
as Turkish is compatible with Greek citizenship. Minority representatives recognise
(R10) that the citizenship rights of minority members are now respected and
guaranteed. It is their political and collective right to self-determination that is
however still a matter of controversy with the Greek state. One minority respondent
argues that there should be a collective group denomination such as Turkish Greek
Greek public opinion is divided on this matter. Minority members appear to
agree with this view and argue, as our informants do in the interviews, that their
ethnic identity is Turkish but they are citizens of Greece and also citizens of the EU
(and accept all the rights and duties that are derived from their citizenship) (R29).
Some of the representatives of the Christian majority in Thrace and generally Greek
25 See also Kassimati (2004) about the meaning of Greek national identity, its connection with ethnic
ancestry, religion and other national features as well as Europe.
26 We agree with Malesevic (2004: 1-12) that ethnicity is a term and concept difficult to pin down as it
is used to describe very different types of groups and often reflects stereotypes that are commonly used
in public opinion with regard to distinct notions such as culture, race and nation. In this work, we opt
for a working definition of ethnicity that goes along the Anglo-American tradition, using the term
ethnic to define a minority group within a larger society of the nation-state (Malesevic 2004: 1).
public opinion are worried that the minority’s claim to define itself collectively as
Turkish is a national claim, re-opening the question of state borders between Greece
and Turkey and allowing for Turkey to interfere in Greek internal affairs. They thus
argue that the minority identity is not compatible with Greek citizenship but only with
the EU one (R20).
In this context, both the minority and the majority members see the EU action
and intervention as beneficial to their political and cultural demands albeit in an
indirect way. The minority representatives perceive the EU as a distant and indirect
but still important guarantor of their rights. Many of our minority and majority
informants state with a high degree of certainty that Greece has changed its policy
towards the minority largely because it realized that it could not get away with
discriminating against the minority for much longer (R27, R26, R4). They argue that
the Greek government probably feared sanctions from the European Court of Human
Rights and was no longer willing to be exposed to criticisms by its fellow member
states on this issue.
Some of the majority informants also conform with the opinion that conceding
full rights to the minority and integrating it into the Greek society and polity was part
of Greece’s adjusting and integrating to the EU. However, they see this as a
redressing of nationalism and a lessening importance of religion in everyday life and
in politics. This is what majority informants perceive as the impact of Greece’s
integration into the EU on the minority politics in their region (R18, R19, R21). They
do not see this influence as contrary to Greek nationalism: the latter remains their
main or their ‘primary’ identity.27 They see it as part of the multicultural reality of
Europe and of their region in particular.
Both majority and minority members recognize largely that the EU set a good
example to be followed by individual member states as a large entity that respected
and preserved cultural diversity and that made the peaceful coexistence of different
peoples and cultures possible (R26, R12). Informants argue that it encouraged the
preservation of the Greek Turkish minority culture and of minority cultures generally
(R23, R15). The EU was thus seen as setting a higher standard that contributed
towards Greece’s change of minority policy in the early 1990s (R8).
A small group of minority (R14, R6) and majority (R5) representatives view
the EU as a new framework for geopolitics and identity that would allow the minority
to set free from the Greek Turkish net of relations. They are thus in favour of self-
determination not only in symbolic terms (as a Turkish community in Greece) but
also in actual, political and policy terms as a community of Turkish Greek citizens
that claims its own interests and rights.
Nonetheless, most minority members emphasized that the change of the policy
came from the power centre of Athens, it was initiated by the then Prime Minister
Mitsotakis’ speech in Komotini in 1991, and that overall policy fluctuations had and
still have to do with the Greek Turkish relations and the Cyprus question (and its ups
and downs) rather than with the process of EU integration or with decisions,
directives or conventions issued in Brussels or Strasbourg (R12). Some minority
informants (R16, R26) argue that the EU framework for protection of minority rights
is less advantageous than the Lausanne treaty.
Indeed, this general conviction (among several minority and majority
representatives) that the EU has played an important role in the change of the Greek
27 See also Kassimati (2005) about Greek national identity being seen as the ‘primary’ identity while a
sense of belonging to Europe being felt as a ‘secondary’ identity.
policy towards the minority is little substantiated by concrete examples and events. As
one of our interviewees (R24) suggested, if it were not for the EU they would not
have dared to mobilise in the early 1990s but at the same time, ‘although the
[European] framework [for the protection of human rights] is better, we have not seen
the EU sending a Commissioner to tell the Greek government that they would have
sanctions if they violate human rights.’
The only concrete example of minority mobilisation in the European
framework took place last year (in 2005) when the minority, having exhausted all
legal means in Greece, has referred to the European Court of Human Rights for the
resolution of its controversy with the Prefecture of Ksanthi regarding the naming of
the Turkish Union of Ksanthi. The naming of minority associations and in particular
of this Union as Turkish has taken a symbolic character, epitomising the minority’s
claim for recognition of its ethnic (Turkish) rather than religious (Muslim) character.
The Turkish Union of Ksanthi and the Prefecture have been involved in a judicial
battle for nearly twenty years on this matter. The last judgement of the Supreme Court
(Areios Pagos) (decision no. 4 of 2005) has confirmed the decision of the Appeals’
Court of Ksanthi that banned the Turkish Union of Ksanthi. It did so because its name
was, according to the court’s decision, confusing to the Union’s membership as it
referred to another national entity pursuing thus, by its mere naming, the interests of
another state into Greece. It was thus damaging the peaceful coexistence between the
Muslim and Christian population of Thrace and was raising, following the wording of
the decision, a ‘non existent issue of a Turkish minority problem’ there.28
Despite the unhappy (in our view) development of this judicial battle, minority
respondents note that the situation in this domain has improved in the past years.
Sometimes (especially during pre-election campaigns) Greek politicians refer to the
minority as Turkish, with a view to attracting its votes. And minority members can
use the word Turkish as a feature of self definition both at the individual and the
collective level freely. However, Greek politicians suffer from ‘bad memory’ as soon
as the election is over and go back to referring to the Muslim minority (R1, R28).
Although all respondents state that the two communities can live together
peacefully, some perceive their relationship with the majority and with Europe writ
large as an antagonistic one. They construct a hierarchy of civilisations or religions
(R16) where entities such as ‘Muslims’, ‘Christians’, ‘Greeks’, ‘Turks’, ‘Europeans’
are compared and evaluated.
When asked whether they felt European and what it meant for them to be
European, our informants invariably considered Europe as a ‘modern, advanced,
developed society (R2, R8). Europe was contrasted to the reality of the minority in
material terms (R8, R28). Greece was contrasted to Europe as regards their values and
culture (R2): ‘Greeks are not very European, they are a very conservative nation’.
Some minority members emphasised that the EU meant to them security,
justice and mutual interdependence among member states (R15). Others emphasised
that Europe means ‘to have knowledge, to be educated, it means development, respect
28 See also the public letter addressed by the minority MP, Ahmet Ilhan, to the Prime Minister of
Greece Kostas Karamanlis (dated 21 February 2005). The issue is quite controversial as a previous
Supreme Court decision (in year 2000) ruled that the name as such could not constitute a threat for the
public order and hence annulled the decision of the Appeals’ Court of Xanthi. The Supreme Court
ruled that there should be concrete actions endangering the public order and damaging the peaceful
coexistence of the two communities. Such a danger could not be inferred from mere conjectures as to
the intentions of the members of this Union. However, the new ruling of the Supreme Court states
for differences and human rights’ (R27), ‘Being European means being civilised’
(R3). Several minority members explained that they felt Europeans because they
adhered to European values and aspirations for material well being (R3, R17, R27).
The same happened with majority members who emphasised that Thrace became
European only in the last ten to fifteen years when the state policy towards the
minority changed (R4).
Majority members emphasised democracy, equality and equal opportunities as
well as efficiency in governance as the main features of Europe and the EU (R20). By
and large minority and majority representatives shared a similar representation of
Europe as an entity that protects cultural diversity, that is democratic and that
provides guarantees for people’s human rights as well as a certain level of material
well being. However, minority members emphasised the role of the EU as provider of
security and a guarantor of human rights while majority members attributed more
importance to democracy and equality in a general sense. Among minority members
some stated that they felt European but others stated that they did not. No majority
members denied their European identity.
Citizenship understandings and cultural claims in the national and European context
As regards the informants’ understanding of citizenship, minority and majority
representatives are in agreement to a large extent. The changing socio-political
context since 1991 has played a role here: both sides agree that one can be a Greek
citizen but have a different cultural or religious identity. They also agree that Greek
citizens should enjoy the same rights and duties, notably what has been referred to in
the Greek political discourse as equality before the law and equality of status
(isonomia, isopoliteia) as also declared in the famous speech of Prime Minister
Konstantinos Mitsotakis in Komitini in 1991, which signalled the start of a different
policy of the Greek state towards the minority.29 Thus, both the majority and the
minority members condemn the state policy until 1991 which deprived the minority
members from fundamental human rights and affected such daily issues as the issuing
of a driving license, the possibility to buy property, the possibility to exert a
profession or open a shop, the possibility to obtain and renew their identity
documents. Not least, the state policy at the time included depriving the minority
members who migrated for a longer period, of their citizenship (the infamous
application of article 19 of the Greek Constitution) leaving them often stateless. In
sum, the two sides agree both on the negative liberties that the minority should enjoy
just like the majority, i.e. not to be limited in its normal socio-economic activities.
Minority and majority respondents agree on the positive liberties that the minority
should enjoy, notably its right (enshrined in the Lausanne Treaty of 1923) to a
minority education. However, the two sides disagree as to what exactly is the scope
and means through which this education should operate.
Although minority education matters were settled in the Treaty of Lausanne
(1923), the actual functioning of the minority schools and the quality of education that
they provide was and still is politicised. Until the late 1990s, minority education was
largely neglected by the Greek state. The state, bound by the Treaty of Lausanne, did
not and still does not dare to change for instance the number of minority schools with
29 For more detailed presentation of the issue, see Paraskevopoulou (2002) and Anagnostou and
Triandafyllidou (2005).
a view to rationalizing the resources and improving the quality of learning because
any reduction in school numbers even if done with a view to improving the quality of
the educational process would be seen by the minority members as undermining the
Lausanne treaty provisions and generally the rights of the minority. The state failed
until recently to provide for good quality infrastructure (school buildings), learning
materials (obsolete) and higher education training for the minority school teachers.30
While majority informants believe the education issue (which all local actors
recognize as of paramount importance for the development of the region) is solved,
minority representatives think otherwise. They recognize that infrastructure has
largely improved and so have learning materials but criticize the overall structure of
the minority education curriculum and the system for training minority teachers. They
ask for full bilingualism in education (R8) so that minority members preserve their
ethnic culture and at the same time (by learning fluent Greek) are better integrated in
the local and national society and labour market. The importance of speaking and
writing Greek fluently is emphasised by several minority informants as part of the
minority citizens’ obligation towards the Greek state and also as a practical issue that
would contribute significantly to their chances of employment and economic
advancement (R30). They also ask for University level courses for the training of
minority teachers.
Overall, minority education is less controversial an issue than the political
demands of the minority. Although its reform has been an important step for
improving the minority’s integration and progress in Greek society, more courageous
steps need to be taken. Such steps would involve a change in the view of the overall
Greek education system, recognizing that it needs to be less centred on a single
national culture and language and introducing the need for mutual (i.e. also of native
ethnic Greek children) learning of cultures and ethnic traditions of the people who
live in Greece including not only the Muslim minority’s culture in Thrace but also the
cultures of large immigrant groups now residing in Greece.
As regards education, it cannot be said, in our view that EU integration has
mattered much in the changes introduced. Such changes were more a result of the
Greek Turkish rapprochement in the late 1990s and in some probably personal beliefs
of the then Minister of Education George Papandreou. Such changes were supported
by University professors who headed the special education programme (Anna
Frangoudaki, professor at the Aristotle University of Thessalonike) including the
training of minority school teachers (both Greeks and Turks/Muslims) and also by a
large part of the local society. CSF funds may have mattered in the minority views as
regards their education needs in an indirect way: minority members have realised in
an ever more pressing and frustrating manner that the low educational level of the
minority prevents it from taking advantage of the new context of economic
opportunities. Some informants put it bluntly: how can the minority benefit from the
funding schemes if they are unable to read Greek, to speak Greek or to fill in an
application form (R30, R28 among others).
30 Most minority schools are located in remote villages and the numbers of their pupils have been
declining. There is wide diversity in terms of the composition of the minority schools (student/teacher
ratio). Textbooks for the Turkish language courses were until recently obsolete and those for the Greek
language courses were inappropriate, since they were the standard textbooks prepared for pupils whose
first languae is Greek. The minority education reform has been met with mixed feelings by minority
members because it is geared mainly towards improving the learning of Greek language by minority
pupils. It is thus perceived as undermining their ethnic and cultural consciousness. For more discussion
on this see Dragonas (2004) Paraskevopoulou (2002), Androusou (2002) and Askouni (2002).
6. Concluding remarks
To recapitulate, in this report, we presented a background of the historical and
political conditions that have shaped the position of the Turkish Muslim minority of
Thrace. We also provided an overview of Greek administrative-territorial structures
and regional policies and the ways in which these were geared towards strengthening
the nation-state, empowering the Greek Christian majority and marginalizing the
Turkish Muslim minority in the border region of Thrace. In section two of this report,
we argued that through structural funds and human rights norms, EU integration set a
new context for, and prompted significant domestic reforms in regional development,
subnational institutions and minority rights in the 1990s. The EU did not mandate
specific changes in subnational structures or minority policy but it established a frame
in reference to which domestic elites and national governments appealed in pursuing
domestic reforms in these domains. These reforms integrated Muslims in prefecture-
local government institutions and abolished discriminatory measures, restoring their
rights as equal citizens.
In sections four and five, we analyzed the effects of the abovementioned
reforms for the minority, as well as their consequences for ethnic politics and their
relations with the Greek Christian majority. In particular, we have sought to assess if
and in what ways EU development funds and the overall EU integration process have
affected the patterns of social, economic and political mobilisation of the minority and
its relations with the majority, including its understanding of its ethnic, national and
European identity and of its national and EU citizenship.
In the first place, our findings suggest that minority and majority partly shift
their interests in the direction of pursuing regional integration and inter-communal
cooperation. There is a higher degree of regional socio-economic integration today (as
opposed to fifteen years ago), which is supported by both minority and majority
actors. At the same time, despite greater cooperation between Christians and Muslims
in prefecture and local government institutions and political parties, as well as
widespread support among both groups for greater decentralization, there are no joint
political initiatives on a regional-local basis. Neither though are there any territorial or
self-government demands on the part of the minority, as its small size does not render
such demands viable. The most important claim of the minority is that for cultural
autonomy and self-definition, as these are expressed in the demand for community
selection of the religious leader (Mufti) and the right to identify itself as a ‘Turkish
While more extensive now than in the past, minority integration in Greek
political parties remains tentative and circumstantial. Neither does there seem to be a
significant degree of inter-communal cooperation in economic activities except for the
odd exceptions (notably the few successful and prosperous minority entrepreneurs or
some young individuals from the minority that ask for the services of young majority
individuals in setting up their business or accessing a funding scheme). In sum, the
regional economic and institutional changes taking place within the EU frame in
Thrace, have promoted some inter-communal cooperation, which, however, is
constrained by ongoing political separation along ethnic-national lines.
Overall, ethnic identification matters less than it used to as regards economic
activities, however, past divisions and discrimination, although much attenuated now,
often persist. They may persist less in the form of institutional discrimination but they
do in the form of attitudes and implicit favouring of majority members at the expense
of minority ones. There is however a new vision and identity asserting itself among
the younger generation of the minority which looks at what minority members can do
for themselves rather than what the Greek state cannot or does not want to do for
them. This attitude should be interpreted as an attitude in favour of regional
integration, breaking away from nationalism and moving closer to a sense of
multicultural Thrace and multicultural Europe that bypasses (even if it does not
subvert) the monocultural and mononational understanding of Greek and Turkish
Turkish and Greek nationalism remains salient among minority and majority
leaders and social-political actors, yet, it has become significantly moderated over the
past 15 years. Exclusive conceptions of national-ethnic identity and solidarity are not
as pervasive but are subject to alternative and diverse understandings, as well as more
subject to intra-communal challenge among both minority and majority. A number of
individuals, particularly among the younger generation of the minority, are critical of
Turkish nationalism in so far as its politics involve and depend upon the patronage of
Turkey. At the same time, they support the right to self-determination as an ethnic
Turkish minority. As one of our younger informants stated: “Now it is harder to keep
the minority united… The political change had many major outcomes… in general
positive… but it has been a difficult birth. Since the beginning of 1990s politics has
moved from nationalism and conflict to a general pursuit of something new” (R7). In
a parallel fashion, despite opposition to the demand for minority recognition as ethnic
Turkish, nationalism among Greek Christians also seems to have lost some of its
exclusive quality and political rigour of the previous decade.
By virtue of the fact that it is a multi-cultural and multi-national entity, EU
integration appears to indirectly encourage a distinct ethnic Turkish identity. It also
does so as it promotes norms of human rights and minority protection. It is notable
that claims to cultural autonomy as reflected in the religious demands and ethnic self-
definition claims enjoy widespread support among the minority. They are not merely
endorsed by those segments close to the Turkish consulate but also among others who
are indifferent or even opposed to the later. At the same time, our findings suggest an
equally strong minority quest for integration in Greek society, which was absent
fifteen years ago at the height to ethnic politicization. Regional development
processes, as shown in section four, have most likely contributed to imbuing the belief
in the need to pursue minority interests from within Greek educational institutions and
political structures. One could conjecture that this qualitative change in minority
politics reflects a declining concern with or fear of assimilation, which was made
possible multi-national context defined by the EU.
At the same time, the adamant opposition of Greek majority and state
authorities to recognize the associations bearing the word ‘Turkish’ in their name and
to respond to demands for community selection of the Mufti is a factor that sustains
minority mistrust. The insistence of Greek authorities and political parties in viewing
such demands as instigated by Turkey, instead of recognizing and strength and firmly
institutionalized nature of ethnic Turkish identity in Thrace, as well as their inability
to understand the variable and diverse meaning that such demands have for
individuals, could lead to further polarization.
While minority members continue to refer to the Lausanne Treaty as the main
framework guaranteeing their rights, they also acknowledge the impact of the EU
integration process and of the overall framework of human rights protection in Europe
as guarantors of their rights and of their minority status in Greece. Many of them use
the European framework to criticise Greece for being ‘non-European’ and ‘parochial’
or ‘closed’. At the same time hardly any minority member (including its very political
and religious elites) identified with Europe. They rather identify their geopolitical and
cultural position as ‘peripheral’ to Europe. They point to the fact that their everyday
lives have little to do with ‘European’ ways of life, perceived as modern and affluent.
Their non-feeling European is related to cultural issues but also and perhaps mainly to
socio-economic aspects: Thrace and the minority population are too poor to be part of
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Appendix: List of interviewees
Respondent 1
Community leader – minority
8 December 2005, Komotini
Respondent 2
Community leader – minority
Young Professionals Association, Women’s Section
8 December 2005, Komotini
Respondent 3
Political representative – minority
President of commune
27 August 2005, Ksanthi
Respondent 4
Development/private sector – majority
23 August 2005, Komotini
Respondent 5
Political representative – majority
Municipal Council of Komotini
1 July 2005, Komotini
Respondent 6
Civil society/media – minority
24 August 2005, Komotini
Respondent 7
Media/civil society – minority
24 August 2005, Komotini
Respondent 8
Political representative – minority
President of commune
29 August 2005 – Komotini
Respondent 9
Business/private sector – minority
24 August 2005 – Komotini
Respondent 10
Community leader – minority
5 December 2005 – Komotini
Respondent 11
Political representative – minority
Member of prefecture council
26 August 2005 – Ksanthi
Respondent 12
Political representative – minority
Member of prefecture council
25 August 2005 – Komotini
Respondent 13
Political representative – majority
Mayor of municipality
31 August 2005 – Komotini
Respondent 14
Community leader – minority
7 December 2005, Komotini
Respondent 15
Community leader - minority
25 August 2005, Komotini
Respondent 16
Community leader – minority
5 December 2005, Komotini
Respondent 17
Civil society/media – minority
1 September 2005 – Komotini
Respondent 18
Political representative – majority
Mayor of municipality
26 August 2005 – Iasmos
Respondent 19
Development/Public sector – majority
30 August 2005 – Komotini
Respondent 20
Development/public sector – majority
Administrative Region of East Macedonia and Thrace
1 September 2005, Komotini
Respondent 21
Political representative – majority
Mayor of municipality
1 September 2005, Egiros/Rhodope
Respondent 22
Political representative – minority
Municipal Council, Member
30 August 2005, Komotini
Respondent 23
Project beneficiary – minority
Business, private sector
27 August 2005, Ksanthi
Respondent 24
Community leader – minority
25 August 2005, Komotini
Respondent 25
Political representative – minority
28 August 2005, Ksanthi
Respondent 26
Community leader – minority
24 August 2005, Komotini
Respondent 27
Community leader – minority
27 August 2005, Ksanthi
Respondent 28
Community leader – minority
8 December 2005, Komotini
Respondent 29
Project beneficiary – minority
8 December 2005, Komotini
Respondent 30
Project beneficiary – minority
6 December 2005, Komotini
Respondent 31
Development/private sector – majority
29 June 2005, Komotini
Respondent 32
Political representative – majority
27 August 2005, Ksanthi
Respondent 33
Political representative – minority
Prefecture Council, Member
27 August 2005, Ksanthi
Respondent 34
Civil society/media – minority
President of minority association
25 August 2005
Respondent 35
Political representative – minority
29 August 2005, Komotini
... The exact number of the minority population is an issue of controversy between Greece and Turkey, considering that the last official statistical census of the minority population of western Thrace was held in the 50s. Presently, this population is estimated between 90,000 to 135,000 individuals (Anagnostou & Triandafyllidou, 2007;Dragona & Frangoudaki, 2006). ...
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In this paper, our focus is on the education of children from the Muslim Minority in Western Thrace, an administrative region of Greece. Education in Thrace is a sensitive issue that affects and is influenced by the bilateral relations between Greece and Turkey. More specifically, our research aimed to explore Muslim teachers' approaches, views and beliefs regarding Muslim students' schooling. To this end, our research explored these issues in a Case Study, using semi-structured interviews of Muslim teachers in Thrace. Our findings show that the policy of positive discrimination in favour of the Muslim minority of Western Thrace for more than twenty yearshas had positive results, but has now reached its limits. We believe that the findings of our research can inform policy makers, colleges and schools of education, as well as teachers by providing a better understanding of Muslim teachers' prospects and needs.
... The Rhodopi gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is 62% of the nationwide average, ranking it at the very bottom of the country's 52 prefectures. 5 The main political issues of the minority are stated on various occasions starting with the recognition of their Turkish identity, rather than being referred to as Muslim, which the Greek state prefers. The second problem is the nationalization of the lands belonging to the Turkish-Muslim minority who earn their living through animal husbandry and agriculture. ...
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This article, based on the link between institutional changes and voter behavior, focusing mainly on the 2015 parliamentary elections in Greece and the SYRIZA party's success in Greek Thrace, aims to understand why the Muslim minority voted significantly for SYRIZA and how they managed to send four Muslim representatives to the Greek Parliament, three of them from the same party. The article argues that, although there is massive support for radical-left SYRIZA due to its electoral promises to improve social services in addition to the party's rational candidate nomination, this support reflects a mixture of sociological and issue-voting behavior of the Muslim minority related to their motivation for political representation rather than an ideological shift. The changing political system in Greece since 2012, from a two-party to a multiparty system with decreasing voter turnout, increased the impact of the Muslim vote on electoral results in the September and January 2015 elections; however, it also increased social tension between the majority and the minority.
... They have been living within Greek borders up to the present days, settled mainly in the broad area of Rhodope and Xanthi (Figgou & Condor 2007). According to Anagnostou & Triantafyllidou (2006), their complete integration with Greek society is deemed unsuccessful, while efforts to complete it appear to be occasional and timid, despite the formal recognition by the Greek state and the international treaties. ...
... The 1923 Lausanne Treaty and the compulsory population exchange sealed the border of Thrace, once a unified Ottoman region, by dividing it into Eastern Thrace (Turkey) and Western Thrace (Greece), and established a national security regime along the Thracian border. This regime also precipitated overt exclusionary practices against minoritiesi.e., displacement of minorities from the border region despite existing legal provisions that protect the Muslim minorities in Greece (Cowan 2008;Anagnostou and Triandafyllidou 2007;Oran 2004) and non-Muslim minorities in Turkey (Bali 2008;Cagaptay 2006;Dündar 2008;Karabatak 1996). ...
Bu çalışmada Batı Trakya Müslüman-Türk azınlığın ileri gelenleri, siyasi temsilcileri ile yapılan mülakatlarda ve yerel yayın organlarında sıkça dile getirilen ve nesilden nesile aktarıldığı göze çarpan “biz burada bırakıldık” söylemi güven teorileri ve azınlıkların soydaş ülke-vatan ülke arasındaki ilişkileri üzerine Brubaker‟in öne sürdüğü triadik bağ teorisi kullanılarak incelenmiştir. 1920‟den beri yerel ve ulusal düzeyde Yunan siyasetinde temsil edilen, 1981‟den beri AB üyesi olan Yunanistan vatandaşı olan bu topluluk neden bu söylemi sürdürmektedir? Bu çalışma göstermiştir ki Yunanistan tarafından Lozan Anlaşması‟na dayanarak etnik kimlikleri inkâr edilen, mütekabiliyet ilkesi altında sürekli azınlık haklarının ihlaline maruz kalan ve vatan ülke ile güven ilişkisi kuramayan bu topluluk, azınlık haklarının korunmasında Lozan antlaşmasını ve Türkiye‟yi garantör unsur olarak görmektedir. Siyasi davranışlarında hem Yunan hem de Türk hükümetleri ile temas içinde olan azınlığın Türkiye ile olan güçlü bağının sürmesinde geç dernekleşme, siyasi-ruhani lider eksikliği, dil ve eğitim konusundaki yetersizlikler etkilidir. This study analyzes the common discourse “we were left here” which is frequently expressed in the interviews made with Muslim-Turkish minority‟s prominents, political representatives, and in local broadcast organs, through utilizing trust teories and Brubaker‟s triadic nexus between the minorities- home states and kin states, showing the expression has been multiplied by generations. Why does this community which has been represented in Greek politics at local and national level since 1920 and citizens of an EU member state since 1981, maintain this discourse? This community, whose ethnic identity has been denied, its minority rights have been violated by Greece under the reciprocity rule, and fails to construct a trust relationship with the home state, perceives the Treaty of Lausanne and the kin-state Turkey as guarantor elements for the protection of their rights. This study claims that in terms of politial behavior, minority groups are in contact with both the Greek and Turkish governments. However, the continuation of strong bonds with Turkey originates due to their late organizational skills; the lack of a political and spiritual leader uniting them; weak abilities in their commands of language and several problems in education.
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Bu çalışmada Batı Trakya Müslüman-Türk azınlığın ileri gelenleri, siyasi temsilcileri ile yapılan mülakatlarda ve yerel yayın organlarında sıkça dile getirilen ve nesilden nesile aktarıldığı göze çarpan "biz burada bırakıldık" söylemi güven teorileri ve azınlıkların soydaş ülke-vatan ülke arasındaki ilişkileri üzerine Brubaker"in öne sürdüğü triadik bağ teorisi kullanılarak incelenmiştir. 1920"den beri yerel ve ulusal düzeyde Yunan siyasetinde temsil edilen, 1981"den beri AB üyesi olan Yunanistan vatandaşı olan bu topluluk neden bu söylemi sürdürmektedir? Bu çalışma göstermiştir ki Yunanistan tarafından Lozan Anlaşması"na dayanarak etnik kimlikleri inkâr edilen, mütekabiliyet ilkesi altında sürekli azınlık haklarının ihlaline maruz kalan ve vatan ülke ile güven ilişkisi kuramayan bu topluluk, azınlık haklarının korunmasında Lozan antlaşmasını ve Türkiye"yi garantör unsur olarak görmektedir. Siyasi davranışlarında hem Yunan hem de Türk hükümetleri ile temas içinde olan azınlığın Türkiye ile olan güçlü bağının sürmesinde geç dernekleşme, siyasi-ruhani lider eksikliği, dil ve eğitim konusundaki yetersizlikler etkilidir. WESTERN THRACE MUSLIM-TURKISH MINORITY’S BINDING RELATIONS WITH TURKEY BASED ON TRIADIC NEXUS PERSPECTIVE ABSTRACT This study analyzes the common discourse “we were left here” which is frequently expressed in the interviews made with Muslim-Turkish minority‟s prominents, political representatives, and in local broadcast organs, through utilizing trust teories and Brubaker‟s triadic nexus between the minorities- home states and kin states, showing the expression has been multiplied by generations. Why does this community which has been represented in Greek politics at local and national level since 1920 and citizens of an EU member state since 1981, maintain this discourse? This community, whose ethnic identity has been denied, its minority rights have been violated by Greece under the reciprocity rule, and fails to construct a trust relationship with the home state, perceives the Treaty of Lausanne and the kin-state Turkey as guarantor elements for the protection of their rights. This study claims that in terms of politial behavior, minority groups are in contact with both the Greek and Turkish governments. However, the continuation of strong bonds with Turkey originates due to their late organizational skills; the lack of a political and spiritual leader uniting them; weak abilities in their commands of language and several problems in education.
Modern Greek identity has not been solely the result of an internal ‘creation’ process. It has been defined and elaborated in the wider European context, drawing links between Greek modernity and classical antiquity. The narratives of modern Greek identity have been largely articulated in and then imported from western Europe as ‘components of a broader representation of the sources of European civilization’ (Tsoukalas 2002: 75). The word ‘modern’1 was automatically connected with the creation of the Greek state, that gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire in the nineteenth century — consolidating the creation of the new entity while affirming a link of continuity with the Hellenic ancestral past. Yet, can Greek society and the ‘modern’ Greek state be considered modern? The answer is not straightforward.
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This article introduces the theme of ‘Europeanization’ in the context of the focus on contemporary southern and Mediterranean Europe. In applying the term ‘periphery’ to the region, it argues that the major contrasts that exist between it and the ‘core’ EU states serve to highlight in stark terms the challenges endemic within the Europeanization process. It explores the different meanings of ‘Europeanization’ and argues that it necessitates a broad focus and a complex ontology. The case studies that follow are placed within the perspective of domestic institutional adaptation, albeit in multi-tiered, core-periphery setting. The southern experience highlights the dynamism, asymmetry and fragmentation of the Europeanization process. These attributes are of increasing significance both to an understanding of the patterns of change underway in the region and to the future stability and cohesion of the EU itself.
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This article discusses the notion of ‘Europeanization’ as it might apply to the position of Greece in the European Union. It advances three basic propositions: (i) that the domestic impact of EU integration can be differentiated along various dimensions; (ii) of particular relevance is differentiation between the centre and periphery; and (iii) that the impact of the EU in Greece can be gauged in terms of a series of inter-connected features: a Gramscian hegemony, external penetration of the state administration, dependence on EU aid, fragmentation, and a ‘core executive’ empowerment.
Greek regional policy is examined in relation to the broader process of Europeanisation during a period of four decades (1961-2000). The two-decades of pre-accession (1961-1980) and the first two decades of full membership. The 1981-2000 period is further subdivided into two parts: the first part ended in 1989 and was characterised by the gradual move from a rather negative and reserved attitude towards European integration to a more positive acceptance of Europeanisation as a widely shared societal aim; the second part covers the remaining period from 1989 to 2000 and coincides with the formulation and implementation of European structural policy and the successive Community Support Frameworks (1989-93, 1994-99, 2000-2006). The main argument focuses on the identification of shifts and adaptations of domestic regional policy in response to the process of European integration.
This case study examines the regional reforms towards decentralization and the creation of sub-national institutions within the framework of EU structural policy in the Greek region of Thrace during the 1990s. Inhabited by a Greek Christian majority and a Turkish Muslim minority, the region in the late 1980s and early 1990s witnessed sharp divisions and escalating tensions along ethnic lines. The article analyses the nature and scope of minority politics and its apparent shift in an integrative direction in recent years, away from an exclusive support for the politics of Turkish nationalism. It explores the argument that the establishment of sub-national institutions in the context of EU cohesion policy attenuates nationalist antagonisms and redefines ethnic politics around development goals. Finally, it discusses the implications of the Thrace case study for the relationship between the state, national-ethnic identity and citizenship in the European context.
This article attempts to disentangle the differential effects of content (what group members share) and circumstance (the situations they encounter) on ethnic processes. In contrast to much recent work in ethnic studies that pays attention primarily to the logic and process of boundary construction, the primary focus here is on what lies within the ethnic boundary, on the variable content of ethnic identities and the role content plays in patterns of ethnic persistence and change. The article proposes a typology of group attachments, suggesting that the content of collective identity varies continuously (low to high) along three dimensions: shared interests, shared institutions, shared culture. Ethnic groups vary ‐ within and across groups and over time ‐ in the degree to which each of these constitutes a basis of group attachment and, potentially at least, collective action. Furthermore, this variation has consequences, via interaction effects with circumstance, for patterns of group persistence and transformation. While circumstances constrain and shape ethnic identities, the content of those identities mediates the effect of circumstances on ethnic persistence and transformation. Group attachments based largely on shared interests, for example, tend to be more subject to the impact of circumstantial change, other things equal, than group attachments based on shared culture. The article argues that to fully understand ethnic processes, we have to understand not only the ways in which circumstance and action construct identities, but also the different kinds of identities or group ties that circumstance and action construct. It draws briefly on a number of examples to illustrate these points.
Under what conditions are effective international regimes for the promotion of human rights likely to emerge? Case studies of European institutions — the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Community and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe — confirm hypotheses more consistent with Liberal theories of international relations than their Institutionalist or Realist counterparts. The uniquely successful mechanisms of the European regime, in particular its fine-grained system of individual petition and supranational judicial review, function not by external sanctions or reciprocity, but by `shaming' and `coopting' domestic law-makers, judges and citizens, who pressure governments from within for compliance. The evolution of these mechanisms presupposes the existence of an autonomous independent civil society and robust domestic legal institutions and, even in the relatively propitious circumstances of postwar Europe, required several generations to evolve. Such institutions appear to be, with only a few exceptions, most successful when they seek to harmonize and perfect respect for human rights among nations that already effectively guarantee basic rights, rather than introducing human rights to new jurisdictions. Those nations in which individuals, groups or governments seek to improve or legitimate their own democratic practices benefit the most from international human rights regimes.