Greek Crisis Shows Weak International Ethics
By Victor Bivell
One good thing that may come out of the Greek and Euro
debt crisis is a better understanding that truth has a monetary value
and turning a blind eye to dishonesty can cost dearly.
By submitting false data so it could enter the Eurozone, the Greek
Government has cost its European partners, its bankers and its own people
very dearly. It has become an example of what can happen when a country's
commitment to international agreements and treaties is weak and the
international community does not follow-up to ensure compliance.
But rather than work to restore its reputation, Greece has hurt it
further with its weak commitment to fully implement the terms of its
financial bailout agreement, the largest in history.
Politicians, bankers and the public should not be surprised at this
behaviour. Even a cursory look at Greece's record shows that Greek governments
have a long history of little regard for international organizations
and agreements that do not suit it. Along with the European Union, these
organizations include the United Nations, the European Court of Human
Rights and the International Court of Justice.
This lack of respect is particularly poor with human rights, and goes
back a long way.
An early example that still reverberates today was disregard for the
League of Nations. In 1920, Greece signed the Treaty
Concerning the Protection of Minorities in Greece. It did so because
7 years earlier after the Balkan Wars, Greece annexed half of the territory
of what had been Ottoman Macedonia and took control of its large and
Macedonia was famous for its multicultural population, and its many
ethnic, religious and linguistic groups became minorities in Greece.
It was international concern about these people that led Greece to sign
the Treaty with the League of Nations.
Yet from the beginning Greece failed to honour the Treaty and even
today, 92 years later, it continues to assert that it has no ethnic
minorities and only one religious minority (the Muslims in western Thrace).
Even today the co-signatories to the Treaty continue to allow Greece
to continue to make these two false assertions. The co-signatories are
Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South
Africa, and India.
When during the 1990s and 2000s the European Court of Human Rights
told Greece to recognize specific minorities, Greece ignored its judgements.
For example, in 1998 the Court told Greece to allow the establishment
of a Home of Macedonian Culture. 14 years later this still has not happened.
The United Nations, which is the successor organization to the League
of Nations, has also tried to steer Greece in the right direction.
In 2008 its independent expert on minority issues told Greece to recognize
its Turkish, Roma, Macedonian, Pomak and other ethnic minorities. It
also told Greece to recognize its religious minorities - Catholics,
Baha'i, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, non-Greek Orthodox Christians, and
Muslims outside of western Thrace.
(see Report of the Independent Expert on Minority Issues, Gay McDougall)
The Greek government refused. It repeated that it has no ethnic minorities
and only one religious minority, and ignored the United Nations and
Human rights group Greek Helsinki Monitor says 'Greece systematically
fails to execute European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) judgments, European
Committee for Social Rights (ECSR) decisions and UN Human Rights Committee
(UN HRC) views.'
To that list we can now add the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The ICJ is part of the United Nations and the highest court on Earth.
Its decisions cannot be appealed.
In December 2011, the Court found that Greece had violated a 1995 Interim
Accord under which it had signed not to block Macedonia's entry into
international organizations if Macedonia entered under the name former
Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Despite the Interim Accord, in 2008 Greece vetoed Macedonia's entry
into NATO. Although the Greek government defended its action, the Court
agreed with Macedonia that Greece had broken its commitment.
(see APPLICATION OF THE INTERIM ACCORD OF 13 SEPTEMBER 1995 (THE FORMER
YUGOSLAV REPUBLIC OF MACEDONIA v. GREECE)
Although Greece was found in the wrong, the Greek government did not
comply with the decision. On the contrary. At the NATO Summit in Chicago
earlier this year, Macedonia sought to have its membership put on the
agenda. This would have given Greece the chance to correct its stance,
fulfill its legal commitment, and add another brick to world security.
Instead, Greece was reported to have fought hard to have the issue
left off the Agenda, thus continuing to deny Macedonia entry to NATO
and showing it has not learnt its lesson from the International Court
of Justice decision.
After many years Europe is now alert to Greece's record as an international
citizen. Before the Greek election in May, Germany and France insisted
that Greek politicians sign a pledge that after the election they would
not back down on the commitments they made as part of the massive Greek
Yet the follow-up Greek election in June was presented as a referendum
on whether Greece would stick to the agreed bailout, and the party that
wanted to renege on the bailout was a close second in the election.
At its root the Greek debt crisis is about fairness and truth.
It is about fairness as Greece's long suffering minorities wonder how
the world can be so generous in its debt forgiveness and patience with
Greece, while Greece is so consistently ungenerous with its own people.
It is about truth as it shows that international ethics need to be stronger.
It is not enough to be for truth. The international community needs
to be against deceit. It needs to show more resolve to ensure countries
do what they say they will do. Perhaps events would have worked out
differently, and a lot cheaper, if way back in 1920 and in the 1990s
the international community had made Greece stick to its word and honour
its international agreements and judgements.
That may have shown Greece that its word should mean something. Instead
of the mess it is in today, Greece might have developed into an honest
and valued international citizen.
It's not too late.
Victor Bivell is the publisher of 12 books on human rights in Greece.
This article was published in Global Politician, 11 November 2012.
© Copyright, November 2012