The FUEN Congress in Komotini/Gümülcine/Κομοτηνή, Greece was organised in cooperation with and hosted by the three organisations of the Western Thrace Turks: the Federation of Western Thrace Turks in Europe (ABTTF), Western Thrace Minority University Graduates Association (BTAYTD) and the Friendship, Equality, Peace (FEP) Party. More than 150 guests attended the Congress coming from 20 countries, and representing more than 30 minorities.
The main topics of the congress were the situation in Europe, the minority situation in Greece, especially in relation to the Western Thrace Turks, the situation in Ukraine and the cooperation between minority organisations on the European level.
On this page we would like to give you an overview of the main subjects of the congress and show you the many beautiful photos from the congress. If you have found media articles, photos or maybe self-written memories – please send them to us!
We thank all the participants and guests; it has been great fun together with you.
Photos and slideshow
You can get the best impressions of the congress from the photos on our Flickr-page. Enjoy!
Click here to open the photo-slideshow of the congress
The FUEN Congress 2015 was officially opened by FUEN President Hans Heinrich Hansen. In his opening speech he spoke about the current situation of the autochthonous minorities in Europe. With the West-East conflict in Ukraine, minorities have once again become an item on the political agenda.
The President addressed the fact that Greece does not recognise the Western Thrace Turks as “Turkish”, i.e. as a national minority, but as “Moslem”, and thus as a religious minority. Hansen: “Nowadays all Moslems are suspected and stigmatised across the world, because some fanatical individuals and groups behave so inhumanly. And this causes discrimination against a whole religion. We are happy that we were and are able to get to know the other, warm-hearted, friendly, cordial and open side of Islam here with you.”
According to Hansen there is simply a lack of respect for those that are different. “A nation that does not protect identity and incorporate it into the overall population can never be sustainably successful in global terms. And only nations that protect diversity within their borders can live in peace with other nations.”
The FUEN President wants to create an advisory council together with the members of the citizens’ committee for the Minority SafePack citizens’ initiative, as a kind of think tank that will widen the perspectives of FUEN and provide support for political implementation. The first conference of this kind will be taking place in Belgium in the autumn of this year.
Hansen explained that FUEN is now a known address when it comes to minority policy. It was Germany’s foreign minister, Frank Walter Steinmeier, who expressed this most clearly at the ceremony in Berlin to celebrate 60 years of the Bonn-Copenhagen declarations, where he said: “We also want to use your expertise for our foreign policy!”
Hansen repeated in Komotini his proposal, from the wealth of experience of the German-Danish border country, of setting up a “Contact Committee at the European Parliament”, where we can focus the issues and interests of the minorities with respect to the European Union.
Ahmet Mete, the President of the Consultative Committee of the Western Thrace Turkish Minority and elected Mufti of Xanthi welcomed the participants of the Congress. He talked about the efforts of the Turkish minority to claim their rights and to be treated equally by the Greek state. According to Mete, the most urgent problem is that the community is not allowed to elect its own Muftis, but that they are appointed by the state. Ahmet Mete stated that the Turkish minority wants to stay in Western Thrace and would like to have a democratic dialogue with the Greek state. He thanked the participants for coming to Komotini, because the Western Thrace Turks need their friendship.
Welcome speeches were given by Mustafa Katrancı, Vice Governor of the region of East Macedonia and Thrace, Sibel Mustafaoğlu, Vice Mayor of the city of Komotini and Renate Schnack, Minority Commissioner to the Prime Minister of the Land of Schleswig Holstein, as well as by Ali Rıza Akıncı, the Turkish Consul General in Komotini.
Political Representation of National Minorities in Europe
Minorities are a part of the society and we want cooperation with the majority and with the states and governments. FUEN can be the platform to stimulate cooperation. Politicians from different countries and from the European Parliament spoke about their view of how the interests of minorities can best be represented within the political process. The session was moderated by FUEN Vice President Loránt Vincze.
Hunor Kelemen (RMDSZ, Hungarian in Romania) noticed stagnation in regard to the fulfilment of minority rights in Eastern Europe. For the Hungarian minority it is difficult to achieve greater autonomy, since it is seen as a danger to the state. Herbert Dorfmann (MEP from South Tyrol) sketched the peaceful journey towards autonomy in South Tyrol, which has also transformed South Tyrol from the poorest into the richest region of Italy today. “A strong civil society also leads to a stronger economy.” In connection to Western Thrace he said: “This should also be in the interest of Greece.”
Mustafa Ali Çavuş (FEP-Party, Western Thrace) told about the 3% threshold that keeps the party from obtaining seats in the national Greek parliament and that the state refuses to take the interest of minorities into account. Csaba Sógor (RMDSZ, Hungarian MEP from Romania) said that without NGOs such as FUEN, minority issues on the European level will not be pushed forward. 52% of the MEPs are new and therefore the minority lobby has to be intensified. Dorfmann added that minority subjects must be carried by the large political groups.
The speakers agreed that solidarity and trust are important and that eventually the European institutions will recognise the importance of the minorities. We have a long journey ahead of us, since minority protection requires courage among the majority.
Turkish minority of Western Thrace
In Greece, an EU member state, the minorities are struggling to achieve equality and recognition, foremost the Turkish minority in Western Thrace. In 1923 the minority rights of 150,000 Turks were guaranteed in the Peace Treaty of Lausanne between Greece and Turkey and the region was conferred to Greece. However, the Greek state does not officially recognise the Western Thrace Turks as “Turkish minority”, but only as “Muslim minority”. Despite three judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in 2008 against Greece, the problem still has not been solved. Also the autonomy in education and in religious affairs that is defined in the Treaty was abolished after the end of the military dictatorship and the transition to democracy in 1974 and still has not been re-established.
Two of the sessions at the Congress were dedicated to the situation of the Turkish minority of Western Thrace: in the first session, moderated by FUEN Vice President Dieter Paul Küssner, the current situation was elaborated from different perspectives, addressing specific issues such as education (Pervin Hayrullah), freedom of religion (Assist. Prof Dr Ali Hüseyinoğlu), the problem of deprivation under former Article 19 of the Greek Nationality Code and reinstatement of Greek citizenship (Halil Mustafa) and the economic situation in Western Thrace (Onur Mustafa Ahmet, MA). In this way the participants of the Congress had the chance to get a profound insight into the minority situation in this region of Greece.
The second session, where FUEN Vice President Halit Habip Oğlu was the moderator, combined the perspective of outsiders, such the human rights expert Willy Fautré who wrote a report on the Western Thrace Turkish minority, Youth of European Nationalities President Matic Germovšek Ž. who presented YEN’s White Paper on Minority Rights and two experts from the region: Assoc. Prof Dr Konstantinos Tsitselikis from the University of Macedonia and writer Hercules Millas, who is a member of the Greek Minority in Istanbul. The bottom line was that trust is needed, and a genuine dialogue between the Turkish minority and the Greek authorities. The enduring tensions between Turkey and Greece over the past century are having a detrimental effect on the minorities. As FUEN we are ready to play an intermediary role and to establish a mechanism of dialogue between the state and the minority.
The situation in Ukraine
The discussion on the situation in Ukraine brought together the Commissioner for Ethno-national Policy of the Ukrainian Government Gennadiy Druzenko with representatives of the minorities in Ukraine, notably Laslo Vasyl Brenzovych (Hungarian) and Anatolii Fietiesku (Moldovan). FUEN Vice President Olga Martens (German from Russia) moderated the session.
Gennadiy Druzenko tried to explain the underlying causes for the conflict. The previous dividing lines in Ukraine e.g. between the Ukrainian and Russian-speaking population or between Catholics and Orthodox, have been eliminated by the Maidan and the war in the East. Now there is a different dividing line: in the East “Putin is a hero and the Soviet union is the model”, whereas in the West no one glorifies the power of the state. The nostalgia for the USSR in the breakaway areas has economic reasons, according to Druzenko: in the Soviet union Crimea and the Donbas region were pampered financially by Moscow. The miners earned more than the coal they produced was worth, namely that what Moscow paid to them.” Once Ukraine became a market economy and the wages became “more rational”, in other words decreased, people in the East became convinced that they would be better off without Ukraine.
Brenzovych deplored that Ukraine is not a state based on the rule of law; the situation in the East and South very much changed and administrative reforms must also take account of the minorities. Fietiesku told that there is progressive legislation in Ukraine, but that the problem lies in implementing the laws.
The second part of the session dealt with the role of FUEN. So far FUEN has not been involved in conflict resolution in Ukraine, but as a European organisation that is not limited to Western Europe, that has a fair number of members in countries outside the EU as well, it can be an effective platform for the discussion of the problems in these countries. The idea was raised to organise a series of meetings in the House of Minorities in Flensburg between representatives of organisations of national minorities in Ukraine and Russia. Representatives from Russian and Ukrainian NGOs were both supporting the idea to use the unused potential of FUEN as an independent expert and platform for dialogue.
Minority Dialogue Forum
The Minority Dialogue Forum during the Congress, a session moderated by FUEN Vice President Loránt Vincze, aimed at creating stronger cooperation between the relevant players on the European level in the field of minorities and language communities. With the Minority Intergroup in the European Parliament on our side (the Co-Chair of the Nils Torvalds MEP gave a keynote speech in Komotini), FUEN wants to join forces with other leading NGOs such as NPLD, UNPO and MIDAS, with the help from research institutes such as Mercator, EURAC and ECMI and think tanks such as MAGMA.
After the rejection of the Minority SafePack Initiative by the European Commission we want to move forward; we have to force the European institutions into action in favour of the minorities and smaller languages. FUEN will bring together an advisory council that will meet in autumn 2015 in Belgium. Its basis is the citizens’ committee for the Minority SafePack Initiative. It will act as a kind of think tank that will widen the perspectives of FUEN and provide support for political implementation.
The EU shall not be just an economic Union, but also a Union of shared values and rights for minorities. The combined strength of the different organisations that attended and were invited to the Minority Dialogue Forum covers the whole of Europe. Now is a good time to create a closer network of partners. We need all the power to work in the same direction, on different levels, create awareness for minority rights. It comes at a time when the European Commission moves away from its self-proclaimed respect for linguistic diversity and does not want to touch on minority rights. For Nils Torvalds MEP there is the danger that Europe is loosing its moral capital as the guardian of human rights and democracy in the world. Europe goes into the world telling how things should be done, but will the outside world continue to listen if it does not live up to its own commitments?
Ups and downs from Flensburg to Komotini – One year of minority protection in Europe
Every FUEN member organisation had the chance to give a short report on what happened in their minority since 2014. In a session moderated by FUEN Vice President Bernhard Ziesch reports were presented on the Macedonian minority in Greece and the Turks of Rhodes, Kos and Dodecanese. Furthermore the participants heard about the German Sinti and Roma, the Minority Council of Germany, the minorities in Hungary, the Hungarian minority in Romania, the Karachay-Balkars in the Russian Federation, the West-Frisians in the Netherlands and the Bretons in France.
FUEN Assembly of Delegates
The official programme of the 60th FUEN Congress in Komotini ended with the Assembly of Delegates. This session of the highest FUEN body, moderated by vice-president Bernhard Ziesch and prepared and coordinated by legal/policy advisor Frank de Boer, was attended by 30 organisations with voting rights and their delegations.
President Hans Heinrich Hansen and his fellow executive board members gave a summing up of what FUEN has been involved in, and Hansen was satisfied to conclude that these activities had yielded positive results. With the continuation of our Minority SafePack Initiative, the opening of the office of the House of Minorities, the lobbying at European level and a series of top-level meetings with politicians, we are outing FUEN and the European minorities in the right position.
FUEN has already created the necessary framework conditions for this. In the last few months, under the leadership of our 39-year-old secretary general, Susann Schenk, it has been possible to get FUEN out of the red and into a positive situation for the coming years.
Several prestigious events have already been confirmed for 2015/2016. In September 2015, the German-speaking Community in Belgium will be hosting the new FUEN Advisory Council, and the FUEN Congress in May 2016 will be held in Wrocław/Breslau when it is the European Capital of Culture, and the governor of South Tyrol has invited the political policy makers of the European regions to the EUROPEADA in June 2016. These are the ways in which we will be able step by step to establish a forum for the European minorities, said a confident Hansen.
The assembly of delegates passed the congress resolution with the main demand for a contact committee at the EU. The delegates were pleased to note that the management of FUEN has been able to create the necessary prerequisites for opening their representative office in Brussels.
A result of the congress was the passing of a resolution on the situation in Greece and the situation of the Western Thrace Turks. Three other resolutions were also passed: from the Hungarians in Romania and Slovakia, from the Ecumenical Federation of Constantinopolitans, and the Aromanian Community in Romania.
The Macedonian association “Illinden” from Albania was welcomed into the FUEN family, along with the Assembly of nationalities of Ukraine, an umbrella organisation for over 50 minorities and ethnic groups, and the Moldavians from Ukraine.
Presentations were given about the FUEN Congress of 2016 in Wrocław/Breslau, Poland and about the Congress of 2017 that will take place in Cluj/Koloszvár, Romania.
Hans Heinrich Hansen thanked his very committed colleagues on the board, Martha Stocker, Olga Martens, Lorant Vinzce, Bernhard Ziesch, Halit Habip Oğlu, Dieter Paul Küssner and Matic Germovšek Ž., the member organisations, the FUEN Team and all sponsors for their support over the last year.
Minority Market / Evening in Komotini / Excursion to Kırköy/Kirnos / Visit of the Seyyid Ali Sultan Tekke Dervish Lodge in Büyük Derbent / Last evening
Next to the discussions there was also a rich social programme. The FUEN Congress started with a Minority Market. Also this year the minorities brought specialties from their home country. It developed into a very enjoyable evening.
Thursday evening the community in Komotini had prepared an evening with dance, music and typical food in the centre of Komotini, in the Komotini Turkish Youth Union.
On Friday evening, there was an excursion to the Turkish village of Kırköy/Kirnos, in the plains south of Xanthi. The whole village had come to welcome and host the participants. There was music, demonstration of Turkish oil wrestling, folk dance and an exhibition.
After the Assembly of Delegates on Saturday, the participants had the chance to visit the Seyyid Ali Sultan Tekke in Evros, in the mountains near Turkey and Bulgaria. This is a holy shrine for Seyyid Ali Sultan, a dervish who spread Turkishness and Islam in the 14th century in this area.
The Congress of 2015 was concluded with a dinner in Hotel Chris & Eve.
The Congress Team
The FUEN Congress 2015 in Komotini was managed by Éva Pénzes and Roxana Nelamischkis, with the support of Pervin Hayrullah, Onur Mustafa Ahmet, as well as Kurtuluş Engin Soyyılmaz, Fatma Ahmetcik, Frank de Boer, Madlenka Kowar and Nehle Mommsen.