Address by Athanasios Parisis to the first International EBLUL Conference

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Address by Athanasios Parisis to the first International EBLUL Conference

November 15, 2002

Welcoming Address by the President of the Greek branch of the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages (EBLUL), Mr. Athanasios Parisis to the first International EBLUL Conference Thessaloniki, 15 November, 2002

Subject of conference: Promotion of the lesser used languages in Greece Mr. President, Bojan Brezigar, Honoured guests,

On behalf of the Greek EBLUL Committee I take great pleasure in welcoming you to the first EBLUL international conference dedicated to the various linguistic groups in Greece.

Across the European Union, no fewer than forty million people speak languages in their everyday lives, which are different from the official language of the state in which they are living. At present this figure represents 10% of the total European population, but shortly, with the expansion of the Union, the number of people speaking a different language from the official language of their state will be much, much greater. Greece, too, is no exception; however vigorously the state may deny it, the facts tell their own story. A by no means negligible section of the Greek population is bilingual. It is not possible to provide precise figures, since none of the censuses carried out to date has included a question on language. The one exception was the census of 1920, yet the figures it yielded for the northern regions of the country were never published.

Moreover, the long-standing policy of marginalisation and suppression has succeeded, naturally enough, in reducing the actual number of those speaking the non-official languages. This hostile treatment of heteroglossy in Greece had its beginnings in the early days of the modern Greek state, 170 years ago. In those areas of the country where Arvanitika was prevalent, every effort was made to discourage its use. There was perhaps some justification for this in the desperate efforts being made to unite the regional populations into a single Greek state, using as a means to this end a policy of homogenisation of the various populations.

At the beginning of the 20th century, when new territories were annexed by the Greek state, the process of displacing alternative languages and forcing their speakers to assimilate the Greek language and Greek national ideology - one state, one nation, one language, one religion - assumed new dimensions. The state resorted to violence, persecution, exchanges of populations and the mass 'cleansing' of villages, which refused to submit. Later, in the course of the Civil War, many tens of thousands of individuals, among them whole villages, were forced to flee as political refugees to eastern Europe. Some of the children of these refugees are still living in exile, a situation almost incomprehensible in the context of the modern Europe.

Those of us who remained in Greece were subjected to special schooling, kept in the classroom all day to minimise our contact with our family environment - the environment where our native tongue was spoken. It is worth mentioning that the 1961 census lists just ten child day care centres for the region of Messenia, whereas in the area of Florina no fewer than 48 such centres were in operation. The numbers are, of course, inversely proportional to the size of population in each region actually in need of these centres. The selective policy of the Queen Frederika Foundation, which was accompanied by the movement of 'poor children' - the actual phrase used - to isolated schools in southern Greece, was intended to encourage the children to change their language and thereby further the process of national integration.

In the years which followed the tactics of psychological violence, the undermining of the dignity of the child and the intimidation of the parent - all produced the results the state desired, the 'persuasion' of individuals to deny their own identity, their tradition, their language. And this in a Europe, which claims to respect the ideal, among others, of respect for human rights and the linguistic and cultural disparity of its peoples.

As President of the Greek branch of EBLUL I should like to stress the need to introduce our languages into the Greek educational system. We also seek access for the linguistic communities of our country to the mass media, radio and television.

We very much hope that in this endeavour we shall enjoy the support of the Brussels office, the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Council of Europe and all the other agencies of the European Union with an interest in these issues.

Athanasios Parisis