10 November, 2005
The US state department's annual report on religious freedoms throughout the world, for the year 2005, was positive for Greece in general lines, noting that the Constitution establishes the Eastern Orthodox Church of Christ as the prevailing religion, but also provides for the right of all citizens to practice the religion of their choice.
The report said that there was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered in the report, and that the generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.
It noted that in 2005, a series of scandals alleging the theft of antiquities, trial-fixing, and other illegal and immoral behavior by high-ranking Greek Orthodox clerics shook the powerful Orthodox Church, and renewed discussion in the media of a separation of church and state.
The report said that Western Thrace has secular Turkish-language bilingual schools and two Qur'anic schools funded by the state. As of 2004, approximately 7,000 Muslim students are enrolled in Turkish bilingual grammar schools and 953 attend minority high schools. Another 280 students, many of whom become schoolteachers, attend the Islamic schools. The majority of Thrace Muslim students, approximately 3,650, attend public secondary schools which are deemed better preparation for Greek-language universities.
It further noted that special consideration is given to Thrace Muslims for admission to technical institutes and universities that set aside 0.5 percent of the total number of places for them annually. Approximately 900 Thrace Muslim students take advantage of this affirmative action program; a small number choose to attend university in Turkey. In April 2005, the Minister of Education announced that ten full scholarships for the academic year 2005-2006 would be offered for Muslim students who will enter universities.
But unlike in Thrace, the report continued, the growing Muslim community in Athens still does not have an official mosque. Although the Parliament approved a bill in 2000 allowing construction of the first Islamic cultural center and mosque in the Athens suburb of Peania, construction had not started by the end of the period covered by this report, it said, adding that the Archbishop of Greece and members of the Orthodox Church have made public their opposition to the cultural center.
The report also mentioned progress against anti-semiticsm, noting that there were a number of Holocaust commemorative events throughout the country during the period covered by this report. Two new Holocaust monuments were inaugurated, in Arta in July 2004, and in Komotini in May 2005. The Government passed legislation in 2003 establishing January 27 as Holocaust Remembrance Day, and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was the keynote speaker at a national commemorative event in Thessaloniki in 2005. The Ministry of Education distributed materials to schools on the history of the Holocaust to be read in all schools on Holocaust Remembrance Day. For the first time, the Jewish Communities of Greece celebrated Chanukah at a public square in Athens in December 2004.
But it said that despite the progress, the pnemonenon continued to exist, particularly in extremist media which frequently did not make the distintuishment between criticising the policy of Israel and negative comments on Jews. In this context, it made specific mention of the Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) party and its leader George Karatzaferis, noting that it promotes radical nationalism, anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia, while Karatzaferis himself regularly attributed negative events involving the country to international Jewish plots.
Source: Athens News Agency