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Claims of policy shift on FYROM

DFAT confirms business as usual

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19 Feb 2012

A claim by FYROM lobby group the Australian Macedonian Human Rights Committee*(AMHRC), that the federal government has agreed to a "policy shift" in relation to the FYROM community, has been denounced as a publicity stunt by Australian Hellenic groups.

The announcement, made at a press conference held by the AMHRC in Melbourne on Monday, presented extracts of recent correspondence between the organisation and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT), which said that a "Slav Macedonian' Administrative Circular" (dating from 1994), describing the language spoken in the Former Yugolslavian Republic of Macedonia as 'Slav Macedonian' was "no longer operative."

The AMHRC also presented a letter received from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), which confirmed that DIAC "does not actively use the term 'Slav Macedonian, and now only uses the term 'Macedonian'.

The press release distributed by AMHRC included a 12 month timeline detailing its efforts to seek "a formal withdrawal of the discriminatory and offensive "Slav Macedonian policy," which included the AMHRC requesting government documents under the Freedom of Information Act and appeals to the Prime Minister's Office.

In a joint statement, the Australian Macedonian Advisory Council and the Pan-Macedonian Association (WA) said, "Commonwealth agencies like DFAT, the ABS, Centrelink have not used the term Slav Macedonian for 12 years. This appears little more than a desperate effort for publicity."

The Australian Hellenic Council (AHC) told Neos Kosmos that it repudiated the AMHRC's claims of any recent policy change by the government but is concerned about what it describes as "open interference in domestic Australian policy" by foreign diplomats in Canberra.

The AHC pointed to the involvement in October 2011 of the First Secretary of the Turkish Embassy in Canberra, Ms Sibel Muderisoglu in efforts by FYROM diplomats and diaspora organisations to lobby federal parliamentarians.

" The AHC respects the rights of all community groups in Australia to meet with our elected representatives. However, it is unacceptable for the representatives of foreign governments actively guide and participate in efforts to determine Australian domestic and foreign policy,"said AHC (NSW) Coordinator Mr George Vellis.

The AHC spokesman added: "The Australian Hellenic community respects the right of all sections of Australian society to self-identification. This includes the right of Hellene or Greek Macedonians - those from the geographic region of Macedonia - to be identified distinctly from Slavomacedonians."

A spokesman for DFAT confirmed with Neos Kosmos that "the 'Slav Macedonian Administrative Circular' has not been operative in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for several years. As is standard practice for inoperative Administrative Circulars, the document was made non-current and archived on 28 October 2008."

The spokesman added that the Government was " mindful of the sensitivity and the depth of feeling in the community regarding the issue of name, but there has been no change in policy."

"Australia's use of the name "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" follows United Nations practice and is a temporary measure pending resolution of the issue between the governments of Skopje and Athens.

"We continue to encourage the parties concerned to work constructively to resolve their differences and support the mediation process led by UN Special Negotiator, Matthew Nimetz."

*This is the formal name under which the above entity is registered in Australia. Neos Kosmos does not endorse the use of the term 'Macedonian'.

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