Toggle navigation menu.
gr

Greek Independence Day

  • Hon. Christopher H. Smith
    US












House of Representative

108th Congress, Second Session

Mr. Speaker, the 183rd anniversary of Greece’s revolt against the Ottoman Empire is an opportune time to congratulate the people of Greece for their ability to prevail against great odds in creating their modern, progressive state. Having just returned from Athens with my colleagues BEN CARDIN, and following the recent elections that resulted in a change in government, I think we should take this opportunity also to review the numerous challenges Greece faces if she is to meet her obligations as a participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

 

Since 1821, the people of Greece have overthrown the Ottoman Empire, survived a war with Turkey which created 1.3 million refugees, turned back an invasion by Italy and suffered through occupation by Nazi Germany. Since World War II they have lived through a full-fledged civil war against communism in which 100,000 Greeks were killed and 700,000 were internally displaced. And, from 1967 through 1974, they were under the control of a right-wing military junta. It is important to remember this tumultuous history of Greece when we acknowledge their success, and when we discuss outstanding issues.

 

Security for this summer’s Athens Olympic Games is a matter of concern among Members of Congress due to our ongoing War against terrorism. The United States has helped Greece by providing funding and manpower to develop as fine a security system as possible, and I hope the American people will take advantage of the joint efforts between our government and the Government of Greece and enjoy the Games.

 

As Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, I am concerned also about the efforts Greece must make to fulfill her OSCE human rights obligations, particularly those involving trafficking in persons, freedom of religion and rights of the Greek Roma minority.

 

Through the assistance of Ambassador Thomas Miller, Rep. CARDIN and I met with officials of the Government of Greece and representatives of various NGOs to discuss Greece’s progress in addressing and solving problems involving human trafficking. As the author of the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act, I am concerned that Greece has just barely moved from Tier Three to Tier Two. The police-based Committee on Trafficking, created in November 2001, clarified how their victims of trafficking screening process works and reported that in 2003, 49 criminal organizations had been broken up with 284 arrests, and 93 victims had been liberated with 28 characterized as victims. Others did not get victim status because they either opted to go home or were in Greece legally with passports. They described their two major anti-trafficking units, in Athens and Thessaloniki, and the training in anti-trafficking that is being taught at all levels of the police academies. The Committee has produced, in thirteen languages, “Know Your Rights,” a pamphlet explaining to the trafficked steps toward safety. Victims are sent to NGO-supported shelters. After touring a shelter in Athens we were struck by the positive attitudes of the women, and came away with renewed hope for them. While these are all positive steps, the visit made clear that Greece needs to put more effort and funding into curbing human trafficking, especially in supporting the NGOs who are providing critical services in the field. I urge the new government of Prime Minister Karamanlis to focus on this issue.

 

We sought clarification of the problems non-Orthodox religious believers face in Greece and met with Muslim, Jewish, Protestant and Catholic religious leaders. The Thrace Muslim Association pointed out that although there are more than 11,000 Muslims in Athens, there is no mosque, and yet 22 unofficial houses of prayer with no imam. As there is no Muslim cemetery, Muslim dead must be transported over 800 kilometers to Thrace for proper burial. Ironically, there is a new mosque being constructed in Athens–it is nowhere near where the Muslims live, and it will be funded by Wahabi Saudis, a sect not particularly welcome by the local Moslem community nor by the Greek Government. We heard their complaints about limited military promotions, no work in the judiciary, limited job availability, and a poorly applied immigration law. Non-Orthodox Christian leaders spoke about discrimination as opposed to persecution, emphasizing the need to change society for their acceptance.

 

Greek Jews–the Jewish community that, at 80 percent, lost a larger portion than any other country under the Nazis–number around 10,000, concentrated in Athens and Thessaloniki. With 3 functioning synagogues, Rabbis must be brought in from other countries for the High Holidays. We were told “anti-Semitism is not widely and visibly expressed, but is expressed in many ways.” The press is anti-Semitic under the guise of anti-Zionist or anti-Israeli statements, and is pro-Palestinian Liberation Army. School texts continue to have anti-Semitic materials and lack acknowledgement of the Holocaust, but have improved since the past. Vandalism of Jewish sites occurs, with little to no police follow-up.

 

Finally, we visited the relocated Roma camp in Spata, near the Athens airport, which is on an abandoned toxic NATO dump. They lack reliable running water or sewers, which is justified by the authorities since this is an illegal settlement on airport land, yet the 24 families, all with legal papers, live in portable homes supplied by the municipality and the children go to public school. They are never visited by local authorities, including doctors, despite promises. Their village is only accessible by terrible mud roads, which become a barrier in wet weather. It became clear that the two most important things needed for this community are permanent homes and a job for everyone that is seeking the opportunity.

 

These are snapshots of Greece, the invisible Greece that tourists and the outside world, even many Greeks, never see. Trafficked women who are forced to serve as sex slaves. Jews, Muslims and non-Orthodox Christians treated as second-class citizens. And Greek Roma whose basic needs are disregarded.

 

Yes, we should commemorate the 183rd anniversary of the fight for freedom, but still must wait for all Greeks to equally share that freedom.

 

The new government under Prime Minister Karamanlis has a great opportunity to step forth and work toward solutions in these matters. In my capacity as OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Special Representative on Human Trafficking Issues, and as Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, I look forward to working with the Prime Minister and with Greek parliamentarians to help find answers to these problems.

Category
Country
Issue
Date
Filter Topics Open Close
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Leadership Responds to Murder of...

Feb 16, 2024

WASHINGTON — Following reports of Alexei Navalny’s death in prison, Helsinki Commission Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02) and Ranking Member Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following joint statement: “Alexei Navalny dedicated his life to seeing Russia free and at peace. Despite every cruel obstacle Putin placed in his way, even a near-fatal poisoning, he did not waver in his condemnation […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

Eyewitness Accounts: Ukrainian Children and Adult Ci...

Jan 31, 2024

  Russia’s abduction of thousands of Ukrainian children and adult civilians as part of its war on Ukraine calls for urgent U.S. and international action to both save Ukraine’s children and civilians and to hold Russia accountable for its war crimes. The Ukrainian government has documented close to 20,000 cases of children taken to Russia […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Wilson, Whitehouse, Tillis, Jackson Lee Applaud Incl...

Dec 08, 2023

WASHINGTON, DC – Representative Joe Wilson (SC-2), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Helsinki Commissioner Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Senator Thom Tillis (NC), and Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18) applauded the inclusion of the Foreign Extortion Prevention Act as part of the FY2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). “We cannot allow authoritarians to extort American […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

Making Russia Pay: Sovereign Asset Confiscation for ...

Dec 06, 2023

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States and its partners and allies have frozen an estimated $350 billion in Russian reserves held abroad. Members of Congress – including members of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) – and experts have advocated for governments to confiscate and repurpose these funds […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Hearing – Making Russia Pay: Sovereign Asset Confisc...

Nov 30, 2023

HEARING NOTICE – Making Russia Pay: Sovereign Asset Confiscation for Ukrainian Victory Wednesday, December 6th 2:00-3:30 PM Dirksen Senate Office Building 608 Stream live here: https://youtube.com/live/9X0Ip2wjogs In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States and its partners and allies have frozen an estimated $350 billion in Russian reserves held abroad. Members of Congress […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

CSCE Leadership Welcomes New Executive Branch Commis...

Nov 07, 2023

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, today announced the appointment of three Executive Branch Commissioners to the Commission. CSCE welcomed Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Celeste Wallander, Deputy Secretary of Commerce Donet Dominic Graves, Jr., and Department of State Coordinator for […]

screen-reader-text
In the News

Lawmakers say Kara-Murza case spotlights administrat...

Oct 26, 2023

screen-reader-text
Hearings

Hamas’ Hostages, Putin’s Prisoners, and Freeing Inte...

Oct 25, 2023

The practice of seizing hostages and political prisoners, as well as actively terrorizing civilians is a constant displayed by Hamas in Israel and Russia’s war against Ukraine. To highlight issues related to the United States’ strategy to free hostages and political prisoners, last year the Commission’s Ranking Member Congressman Steve Cohen and Chairman Joe Wilson […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Hearing: Hamas’ Hostages, Putin’s Prisoners, and Fre...

Oct 20, 2023

Wednesday, October 25, 2023 10:00am – 11:30am Longworth House Office Building 1334 Stream live here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5U-5Mj_WQtE Hamas’ hostages and Putin’s political prisoners have seized the world’s attention, showing the depths oppressors around the world will sink to in terrorizing civilians and undermining democracy. Dictators and terrorists use violence to fuel fear in those they seek […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

Israel and Ukraine Against Terror

Oct 19, 2023

Terrorist attacks against innocent Israeli and Ukrainian civilians have shocked the world with their cruelty and sophistication. These unprovoked attacks are fueled by transnational terrorist networks that include Hamas, Russia, and the Iranian regime, and which regularly target Ukrainian and Israeli civilians and infrastructure. Israel and Ukraine face common foes in terrorist networks that use […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Hearing: Israel and Ukraine Against Terror

Oct 13, 2023

Thursday, October 19, 2023 2:00-3:30pm Rayburn House Office Building 2247 Stream here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWxwUk4TvVo Terrorist attacks against innocent Israeli and Ukrainian civilians have shocked the world with their cruelty and sophistication. These unprovoked attacks are fueled by transnational terrorist networks that include Hamas, Russia, and the Iranian regime, and which regularly target Ukrainian and Israeli civilians and infrastructure. […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Hearing: Has the United Nations Failed Ukraine and t...

Sep 27, 2023

Wednesday, September 27, 2023 2:00 pm to 3:30 p.m. Rayburn House Office Building Room 2200 Stream live here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrBXYsQA0Qk In 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the largest land war in Europe since World War II. In its wake, experts and leaders like President Zelenskyy raise serious questions whether a United Nations […]

screen-reader-text