Telefriuli - Good morning and welcome! Two guest I have with me this morning, Eugenia Natsoulidou who is an activist for the rights of Macedonians in Greece and chair of the Macedonian Educational and Cultural movement – Good morning – and by her side is William Cisilino, well know Director of the ARLEF who today is accompanying Eugenia to talk about linguistic minorities. Tell us a little about your story, Eugenia, you were born in Greece but you are member of a Macedonian family but in your family this language has never been spoken or it was not allowed to be spoken. Explain to us a little about this.
E- Yes, it is true. I was born in the 50s, precisely in 1955, it was a very much difficult period in Greece, after the Civil war by which many Macedonians had to abandon the country. Those who remained had a terrible treatment. I, as a little girl, although having at home my grandparents who did not speak Greek language – I had to learn a little (the Macedonian language) because of this – but we were not allowed to speak the language in public and especially at school, where it was really forbidden… some children were also beaten up if they pronounced some Macedonian words…
Telefriuli - In other words, it was not appreciated the fact for someone to express himself in the mother tongue. Now, why this guest today. It is because there is a meeting to which she will participate tonight, under the fourteenth edition of the Festival Vicino/Lontano (Near/Far) that opened yesterday in Udine and a meting will be held in which will be discussed this situation. Naturally, the discussion will be expanded, because we are in Europe and, as we said before behind the scenes, in a Europe that should guarantee everyone the freedom to express themselves also in minority languages, but as we see it is not so and in the very much European Greece even today the situation is however complicated, is that right?
E - Yes, probably also for other linguistic minorities, not just the ethnic ones, being ours also a national minority, Europe has been a huge disappointment because in fact we had great expectations with Greece entering the European Union, that it would be more democratic and more liberal – open- on these issues. Instead, it has changed absolutely nothing…. Nothing, really… zero!
Telefriuli - You, William Cisilino, have followed very closely the situation in Catalonia, how can we explain to ourselves this difficulty, it is not the only language minority at European level that finds difficulties.
W- Exactly! We can say that until about the year 2000, exception being Greece that has always been contrary to the question of minorities -historically – and also at European level, we can say that until 2000, Europe, in any case, had made some activities to promote, in the various national states, protection policies, and not just that… It required the states which wanted to join the European Union to undersign some treaties for the protection of minorities. Paradox, treaties that France, Italy and Greece, up today, have not undersigned, so it is a paradox, that is, for you to enter the European Union you must sign the European Charter for the languages but France, Italy and Greece have never signed. This is a paradox that says already lots of things.
Telefriuli - Especially Italy, I mean… but, then, it protects some minority languages there are also officially recognized beyond the Friulan…
W - Yes, it protects or pretends of protecting them… here we could open a long debate. Let’s say that until 2000, however, the European Union did something, directly from Brussels. But when new memberships began to appear in the adhesion of the Eastern European states, let’s say that one of the conditions these states asked, formally or informally, fronting the undersigning of these treaties, was that the European Union would no longer take care of the protection of minorities, so that since 2000 Europe does not do anything, any more. And we also have recently seen how, as you mentioned, in the Catalan case Europe has been completely absent. Then, one wonders how we can have as a motto Union, united in diversity and then doing nothing to protect these diversities when they are put in danger like the Macedonian case which is perhaps, or of Greece in general, the most striking case in Europe.
Telefriuli- You have also received some threats from social media. We know unfortunately that via social media human beings let come out the worse things, but I mean that this is a situation that you are living on your skin.
E - Well, indeed, I was courageous enough to make an association that was not precisely an association but a non profit company which absolutely could not be closed. It was a company, someone makes a company of 3-4 people, how can you close such thing… The associations can be closed by order of a Prosecutor. In the beginning we did not put the name “Macedonian” in the title, but then I thought if it is a company they couldn’t… I mean I have a product and I want to call it in a certain way, there is no law to prohibit it.
Telefriuli - And this did not get appreciation…
E - No, absolutely, it did not get any appreciation… In fact, I changed the name or I just added Macedonian to our title just in 2016 and in 2017 we had to close this company
Telefriuli - It is true, there are difficult realities. William, but Europe how come it is afraid of these minorities because if the closing attitude is this, the coming thoughts are that…indeed is not a closing attitude it is a little of opposing the possibility not only to express oneself obviously in his own language but also at a cultural level… but how can these minorities scare… clear I that they are, after all, a powder keg because if they cannot express themselves or anything else, it happens as it happened in Spain that sooner or later everything becomes a political movement and it bursts out.
W - It scares because more or less all the European states but I would say all the states in the world within them have more than one languages and the states as w know them today were born as nation-states where there is only one language, exception being very rare cases like Switzerland or Belgium for historical reasons, however this nineteenth -century idea is till an axes carrier of the states, therefor is an Europe of states that are believed nation state and when they hear talking about other languages, other cultures, then at the proof of the facts – in line with principle is everything very nice- but at the proof of facts they are against. We are seeing now the Catalan case which is striking… Puigdemont arrested in Germany, Germany most probably will not extradite him to Spain because it came out , finally, and it was about time, because at the beginning was said that Belgium was sympathizing, and it came out that he did not commit any crime because he did not do violent acts of rebellion and there has not been even an embezzlement of state funds because the referendum was done only by private funding, so that today with the Catalans, thanks to Catalans, we are putting our finger in the wound of what is today Europe where things happen like these we just heard occurring in Greece, violence occurring as we saw, at the end of last year, in Catalonia and everybody saying this is not our business, they are internal affairs…
Telefriuli - But this is a contradiction… and I say this about the romantic idea of a Europe of integration and acceptance and of course also the minority languages, the minority communities that are, after all, born from history, also in the case of Macedonia in which is the history that speaks for which you arrived to today’s situation
Telefriuli - We have talked and analyzed a little the situation in Europe, however, this problem goes beyond the borders of Europe because you quoted me also the case of Quebec, right? For which you will talk tonight, as well. You can give us some anticipations of the points
W - Yes! Tonight we will also have the professor Salvatore who is a professor of the University of Montreal in Quebec who will talk to us about the particular situation of the Quebec for those who do not know, it is a state that makes up Canada being in majority francophone. And perhaps is a reality in the world where a region-state has implementented protection policies very much effective to preserve ones’ own identity and language. We can say that even here there is a paradox where the French in Canada is a minority language in the sphere of the Canadian state asking always for more forms of protection, however, France one of the states that notoriously opposes more the minority languages. We will enter also in these paradoxes together with another guest who is the journalist Carlo Pupo of Radio Onde Friulane and who knows all the critical situations in Europe concerning the minorities, so we are going to go also to Corsica, to Scotland.
Telefriuli - Let’s say that the world is made of minorities that, after all, if they had all their rights guaranteed, freedom of expression would not degenerate in movements and revolts.
W - It would be enough to apply mathematics here. In the world there are about 7000 languages, the recognized states in UN are 198, so if we just count a minute… like it or not, the situation is this. It is true, there must be a language of general communication in the state and in international level, nobody puts this in doubt, but is also right to respect local identities, they can coexist peacefully, like it happens with our friend Eugenia who speaks very good Italian, as you heard, and the Greek, Macedonian, Italian and I do not know of how many other languages….
Telefriuli - She misses the Friulan though… We will do for her an accelerated course…
W - Lets say that the languages do not cancel out one another but more languages can live together peacefully
Telefriuli - Well, we grew up with the idea that knowing more languages opens the mind, it does good. Yes, we cannot go backwards to such important issue. William, please remind us about the appointment tonight, what time and where.
Telefriuli - Thanks to Eugenia and William for having been with us today and wish you all the best for the event.
(Translation into English from Italian)