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The modern legal status of the Mount Athos



The peninsula of Athos in Chalkidiki became a center of organized monachal life in monasteries in the year 963, when with the initiative of the Byzantine emperor Nichephorus Phocas the Monastery of Great Laura was founded. Since that time Mount Athos (=MA) became the "Holy Mountain" and has attracted the moral and material support of the Byzantine emperors, various Orthodox countries and the flock till today. During this long period of more then one thousand years, MA was armed with a privileged legal status, the existence of which continues till now. The legal status of MA is based on three foundations: I. The law of the Hellenic Republic, II. The Public International Law, and III. The European Law. I. Fundamental significance for the status of MA have the provisions of article 105 of the Greek Constitution. Then is the Charter of MA, which is drawn up and voted by the Athonite monachal authorities and afterwards ratified by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and the Greek Parliament. The Charter is a law of superior formal force in comparison to the other laws. According to the Constitution and the Charter, MA has an ancient privileged status and is a self-governed part of the Greek State, whose sovereignty remains intact. Spiritually MA is under the direct jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, direct in the sense that the Ecumenical Patriarch is also the local bishop of MA The territory of the peninsula is exempt from expropriation and is divided among the twenty Athonite monasteries exclusively. The administrative power lies in self-administration of the first and the second degree. The first is exercised by the ruling twenty monasteries. This number may not be changed, nor may their position in the preeminence, nor towards their dependencies (skates, cells, hermitages). Nowadays all the monasteries are coenobitic, i.e. the monks share a common life and have no private property. The monasteries are administered by the abbot, the Elders' Assembly and the Brotherhood. Second degree administration is operated by: 1. the Holy Community. It is comprised by twenty monks members, each of whom represents one monastery, 2. the Holy Community's executive organ is the Hiera Epistassia, which comprises four monks drawn annually from four monasteries in rotation. The leader of the Hiera Epistassia is called the First (= Protos). The Hiera Epistassis also performs specific duties as police force, police court and municipality of Karyes, the capital town of MA The legislative power is in the hands of: 1. The Holy Community as far as concerns the Charter of MA, 2. the Extraordinary Biannual Twenty-Members Assembly, which draws up the regulative provisions, and 3. the Greek State, as far as concerns: a) the rights and the duties of the (civil) Governor of MA, b) the judicial power of the Athonite authorities, and c) the custom and taxation privileges granted by the State to MA The judicial power belongs to: 1. the monastic courts (the abbot with the Elders' Assembly), 2. the Holy Community, 3. the Hiera Epistassia, and 4. the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The observance of the regimes is in the spiritual field under the supreme supervision of the Patriarchate and in the administrative under the supervision of the State, which is also exclusively responsible for safeguarding public order and security. These responsibilities of the State are exercised through the (civil) Governor of MA, whose rights and duties are determined by common law. All persons leading a monastic life in MA acquire the Greek citizenship without further formalities, upon admission in a monastery as novices or monks. Also persons who are not Orthodox Christians or they are schismatic Orthodox are prohibited from dwelling in MA II. The first international treaty that recognized an international protection of the MA status was that of San Stefano (1878), but only for the Russian monks. The Treaty of Berlin (also 1878) recognized the same protection for all the monks who were not borne in the Ottoman empire. Its article n° 62,8 was as follows: "Les moines du Mont Athos, quel que soit leur pays d'origine, seront maintenus dans leurs possessions et avantages antérieurs et jouiront, sans aucune exception, d'une entière égalité de droits et prerogatives". This provision was repeated in the special treaties of Sèvres (1920) and then in the protocol of the Treaty of Lausanne (1923). These treaties safeguarded the rights and the liberties of the non-Greek monastic communi ties in MA as follows: "La Grèce s'engage à reconnaître et maintenir les droits traditionnels et les libertés, dont jouissent les communautés monastiques non grecques du Mont Athos d'après les dispositions de l'article 62 du traité de Berlin du 13 juillet 1878". The same provision has been repeated in the Legislative Decree of 29.9/30.10.1923 "On the Protection of Minorities in Greece", article 13. III. Because a lot of provisions of the MA law are opposite to the principles of the European Union (for example the clausura to women, the special license in order to visit the peninsula, the taxation and customs privileges etc.), Joint Declaration n° 4 concerns MA was included in the Final Act (1979) of the Agreement concerning the accession of the Hellenic Republic in the European Economic Community, now-a days European Union. According to this Declaration, recognizing that the special status granted to MA, as guaranteed by the Greek Constitution, is justified exclusively on grounds of a spiritual and religious nature, the Community will ensure that this status is taken into account in the application and subsequent preparation of pro visions of Community law, in particular in relation to customs franchise privileges, tax exemptions, and the right of establishment. .
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