There are two great global revolutions underway — and both have the potential to affect our people and our position in the world. One is a revolution in thought, while the other is a very physical and very violent revolution.
The revolution in thought
The issue of human rights has joined the goal of peace at the very top of the list of international priorities — a revolution in thinking that has been going on for several decades. American-style freedom to be who one wishes to be (within the framework of the law) is becoming a global norm, and this can only bode well for people everywhere.
Just glance at these news clippings taken at random over the past year alone:
“When Lucille Watahomigie began to work as an elementary school teacher in Peach Springs, Arizona, the principal forbade the use of her native Hualapai language in the schoolroom… Two decades later, Mrs. Watahomigie is herself principal of Peach Springs School, which has become a mecca for Indian educators, tribal leaders and linguists around the country who want to breathe new life into America’s first languages.” (New York Times, 1/8/91)
“Representatives of 35 nations launched a new effort to improve the protection of national minorities… The meeting is a follow-up to a Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) conference in Copenhagen last year where for the first time the 35 member countries, including the United States and Canada, pledged to “protect the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of national minorities on their territory and create conditions for the promotion of that identity.” (The GreekAmerican, 7/6/91)
“Breton cultural nationalism is probably running stronger today than at any other time this century… And by shaking off their image of being France’s most isolated and backward region, Bretons have found a way of being both Breton and French.” (New York Times, 8/2/91)
“Too few people realize that Navajo Indians, who volunteered to serve their country, contributed immeasurably to the success of Okinawa and Iwo Jima with their `code talk.’ Navajo code talkers on each end of a communication line or radio would pass on commands in their native tongue, saving precious time and lives by eliminating the need to code and decode during the height of combat, confusing the Japanese, who could not break the code.” (New York Times, Letter to the Editor, 4/1/91)
“For the first 43 years of her life, Barbara Anderson did not talk about her ethnic background. But now it is a matter of prode — and record. On the latest census form, Mrs. Anderson checked a different box: American Indian. “I no longer had to pretend,” she said. Census officials are finding a sharp increase in the number of people who identify themselves as American Indians.” (New York Times, 3/5/91)
The violent revolution
Unfortunately, human rights can be taken to such an extreme that it comes into conflict with the other top international priority, peace, as is happening right now in Yugoslavia and in parts of the Soviet Union. Minority groups and small republics are using force to assert their rights against central authorities. This is wrong, not because violence is “wrong” — but rather because non-violent recourse exists. In this day and age, when there are so many international institutions devoted to minority rights, there is no longer an excuse for ethnic violence.
By every indication, Greece is fast heading for a showdown on the explosive issue of minority rights. For the last five years, this writer has been urging the governments of Greece to show intelligence, flexibility, and even boldness in their thinking about the minority situation, especially in Macedonia. It’s an explosive issue, but so was the collapse of communism, and bold thinking by Mikhail Gorbachev got us through that; so was the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, but the bold thinking of George Bush got us through that; and so on.
But as bold as George Bush has been, Greece’s leaders have been fearful; as far-sighted as Mikhail Gorbachev has been, Greece’s leaders have been myopic; as the rest of the world adapts to a new order, sclerotic Greece just goes on saying and doing the same old things — “there is no Slavomacedonian issue” — “there is no Vlach minority” — “Macedonia has always been Greek” — and all the rest of the nonsensical cliches that have substituted for serious thought about the problem of Macedonia for a century now.
What does this have to do with ethnic and national violence? Just north of Greece, Yugoslavia is quickly falling apart, and the “non-existent” Republic of Macedonia has now voted for independence. If Macedonia indeed separates from Yugoslavia, Greece will have a major problem on its northern border, because Greece has made the Macedonians belligerent by denying their existence for so many decades.
There is another problem on the horizon for Greece: for the first time since the end of World War II, Romania has expressed an interest in the Vlach minority in Greece and Albania, and made official overtures in their behalf. This must be like a terrible dream for Greek Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis, who last year was devastated by U.S. criticism of Greek treatment of its Turkish and Moslem minorities.
Greece has been functioning as a democracy since 1974 — that’s 17 years now. 17 years during which Greece could have done bold things to avoid future problems. 17 years during which Greek leaders could have risen above the petty chauvinism that has marked and marred Greek political life. 17 years during which Greece could have declared itself the protector of the ethnic identity of the Macedonians and the Vlachs — 17 years during which Greece would have had greater credibility as the protector of Macedonians and Vlachs than the authoritarian communist regimes in Belgrade and Bucharest. What an exciting idea — democratic Greece standing up to the sclerotic rule of Tito and Ceausescu and insisting upon fair treatment for the Macedonians and the Vlachs! It would have turned Balkan diplomacy upside-down in the best possible way — and instead of trembling in fear and reciting cliches now as Yugoslavia and Romania lurch violently toward democracy, Greece would be welcoming with open arms the independence of Macedonia and savoring the moral high ground it had gained as a protector of minorities.
The entrenchment — and retrenchment — of the same old ways of thinking have cost Greece an enormous amount of prestige in the international community — for the world has truly changed. The tragedy is that the government of Greece has not yet realized this; indeed, for those who bother to read its pronouncements anymore, the Greek government seems utterly incapable of the dramatic new thinking required by the new world order. How long can Greece continue to hemorrhage not only American goodwill but international goodwill? Time will tell — but Lord, it is a painful process to watch.
What does all this mean for our people? I am happy to say that we have nothing to lose and everything to gain — if we remember the two most important lessons of this century. First, in insisting on our right to speak and learn our language and to form our own associations, etc., we must continue to renounce the use of force. Especially in a new era when so much support exists for minority rights, we must denounce violence as an abhorrent and unacceptable alternative. This year, a group of eighteen ethnic and national minorities set up its own version of the United Nations. Calling itself the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples’ Organization (UNPO), the group held its first forum in February 1991 at the Peace Palace of the Hague, in the Netherlands. The UNPO seeks recognition for its members and promotes non-violent change. We should join UNPO immediately.
Second, we ought to be very careful about the offer of support from Romania. We do not wish to be unwitting pawns in Balkan power politics — we’re the only ones who lose, and if you look at our history, it seems as if we always lose. Indeed, it is time for some fresh new thinking on our part, too. Personally, I would be inclined to accept some help from Romania — not as a “Romanian” minority in Greece, but only as a minority in Greece that is distinct from both Greeks and Romanians and yet closely related to both. Both countries have Vlach minorities — and both should be working to preserve our language and identity. If we have schools someday, they must be in our language, not in Greek or Romanian — otherwise the whole issue is meaningless.
The news is good — it’s not too late for the Greek and Romanian governments — and it’s not too late for our people. It’s only too late for those who refuse to change with the times.
“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”