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Macedonia Soccer Movie Kicks Off Controversy September 26, 2012

Posted by Yilan in Bulgaria, Human rights, Human rights abuses, Israel, Macedonia.
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A screengrab from Macedonian director Darko Mitrevski’s World War II soccer drama “The Third Half”

Soccer has always been a sport that lends itself to drama and it has been the source of many great stories that resonate beyond the field of play.In addition to the frenetic thrills and spills of the game itself, the universal popularity and cross-border appeal of association football means that many stirring moments in the sport’s history also end up being celebrated as part of a nation’s folklore.For example, the infamous “death match” between prisoners of war, who were former professional soccer players with Kyiv teams, and soldiers from the Nazi Wehrmacht has become the stuff of legend in both Ukraine and beyond.

The gripping story of how some local footballers paid the ultimate price for having the temerity to thrash a Nazi soccer team has become a source of national pride in Ukraine.

It’s such an enthralling story that it has easily lent itself to movie adaptations — inspiring a number of films such as “Escape to Victory” starring Sylvester Stallone as well as the controversial “The Match,” which sparked a major controversy ahead of the Euro 2012 finals, which Ukraine co-hosted. .

Now, a Macedonian filmmaker has given the cinematic treatment to one of his country’s most venerated soccer stories, which has also sparked a row.

Darko Mitrevski’s “The Third Half,” which premiered at a festival in Bitolathis week, tells the tale of the short-lived Skopje football club FC Macedonia.

Playing in the Bulgarian league at a time when Macedonia didn’t officially exist, and coached by Jewish trainer Illes Spitz, this team defied all the odds to reach the Bulgarian national league final of 1942.

Bulgarian Outrage

Mitrevski’s movie is essentially a love story based on the life experience of Macedonian Holocaust survivor Neta Cohen.

“The Third Half” depicts how a young Jewish girl from an affluent family defies her parents by dating a poor Macedonian football player. But their love overcomes this parental hostility and even saves the girl’s life because she manages to escape being deported to Treblinka by eloping with her boyfriend.

With high production values and a classic Romeo-and-Juliet plotline set against the tumultuous backdrop of World War II, the film has every chance of being well received internationally.

It’s not surprising therefore, that “The Third Half” has already been nominated as the Macedonian entry for this year’s Best Foreign Language Oscar.

WATCH: International trailer for “The Third Half”

In neighboring Bulgaria, however, the film has sparked outrage, with many saying that it paints a skewed picture of the deportation of Macedonian Jews to Nazi death camps.

Late last year, three Bulgarian members of the European Parliament called on the European commissioner for enlargement, Stefan Fuele, to censure Skopje for the movie, which they said was an “attempt to manipulate Balkan history” and “spread hate.”

Bulgaria has often been praised for refusing to deport its Jews to its ally Germany in World War II. Nonetheless, it did deport Macedonian Jews after it occupied the region following the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1941.

According to Balkaninsight.com, only 2 percent of Jews from Macedonia survived the Holocaust and some historians have intimated that Bulgaria handed them over to appease the Germans for protecting their own Jewish population from the Nazis.

Mitrevski has denounced the Bulgarian allegations, which he described as “foolish reactions.” He has also slammed the use of what he calls “Goebbels-like production machinery” to deny Bulgaria’s role in the Holocaust.

Old Sense Of Injustice

Ironically, despite the heated debate surrounding the movie, the real controversy for most hard-core football fans has nothing to do with historical accuracy.

For Macedonian soccer supporters, the film has reawakened an old sense of injustice because they believe FC Macedonia was robbed of the Bulgarian championship in 1942.

To this day, there are many people who still feel that the Skopje club was denied victory in the league final against Levski Sofia because of biased decision-making by referees who had conspired to ensure that a “non-Bulgarian” team would not win the national championship.

In 2010, FC Macedonia’s last surviving member, goalkeeper Vasil Dilev, indicated that there was no doubt his team were by far the better footballing side, thanks to the tutelage of the legendary Spitz.

“There are no more coaches like that,” he said. “He turned Macedonia into a club that made the whole of Bulgaria shiver.”

WATCH: Interview with FC Macedonia goalkeeper Vasil Dilev

Athens, Newspapers Riled over Turkish Prime Minister’s ‘Minority’ Statement September 7, 2012

Posted by Yilan in Human rights, Human rights abuses, Thrace, Trakya, Turkey, Yunanistan.
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Greek newspapers have accused Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of provocation after Erdoğan referred to the Turks in western Thrace as the “Turkish minority,” daily Milliyet reported today.Erdoğan sent a congratulatory message to the Fraternity, Equality and Peace Party (DEP) in Greece to mark the 21st anniversary of the party, which was founded by members of the minority community there.

“Our kin in western Thrace has always had a special place in our hearts,” Erdoğan said in his message. “That is why it is very important that our kin exercises their rights, which have been guaranteed by international agreements, to their full extent.”

“We will always stand by the Turkish minority in western Thrace, as we have done up to this day,” Erdoğan said.

The Turkish prime minister also expressed his hope that the minority in western Thrace and the Greek Orthodox minority in Turkey would serve as “a bridge of friendship” between the two countries.

The Greek Foreign Ministry responded to Erdoğan’s message saying there was no such thing as a “Turkish minority” in the international agreements to which Erdoğan referred in his message.

Greek newspaper Demokratia carried the story with the headline “Erdoğan provokes” and said, “Erdoğan has shown his true colors once again. He calls Greek Muslims Turks and tries to appear as their benefactor.”

Etnos newspaper said, “Erdoğan’s government is very interested in creating a minority issue in Thrace, and they are very good at it.”

Official Greek numbers say around 49,000 ethnic Turks live in Thrace, while western Thrace culture and education associations put the number at around 150,000.

Efforts of Western-Thrace Turks in Thessaloniki remain unsuccessful, mosque pledge not kept September 6, 2012

Posted by Yilan in Human rights, Human rights abuses, Thrace, Turkey, Yunanistan.
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Halit Habipoğlu: Why is the approval of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs needed for a request that comes from the Greek citizens?

The Greek Ministry of Education, Religious Affairs, Culture and Sports and the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to the request of Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris with regard to the opening of the New Mosque in Thessaloniki during the holly month Ramadan, which has been closed for worship since 1924.

According the to the news of daily Hürriyet, Yiannis Boutaris, Mayor of Thessaloniki, applied to the Greek Ministry of Education, Religious Affairs, Culture and Sports for the opening for worship on special days of the New Mosque whose right of use the Thessaloniki Municipality possesses as from 2012. However, the Mayor of Thessaloniki stated for the opening for worship of the New Mosque, not only the approval Ministry of Education, Religious Affairs, Culture and Sports but also of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is needed.

On the other hand, the Western-Thrace Turks living in Thessaloniki request for the opening for worship during the Ramadan feast of the Alaca Imaret Mosque which is in the best physical state among the mosques in Thessaloniki. Speaking to the daily Gündem, Ferit İsmailoğlu, member of the Executive Board of the Macedonia-Thrace Muslims Education and Culture Association, noted during the meeting they had with Yannis Boutaris three months ago, the Mayor promised to provide the Alaca Imaret Mosque for worship during the Ramadan feast.

“It is not understandable that the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Istanbul has the saying in satisfying the regarding demand expressed for a long time by the Muslims who are all Greek citizens. Today, the confusion on this issue is the result of the exclusionary attitude adopted by the Greek Government towards the request that comes from the members of the minority although they are its own citizens.” said Halit Habipoğlu, President of the Federation of Western Thrace Turks in Europe

Greek Golden Dawn attacks NGO’s office in Komotini September 5, 2012

Posted by Yilan in Human rights, Human rights abuses, Turkey, Yunanistan.
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Members of Greek extreme rightist nationalist political party Goden Dawn attacked last night the office of a non-government organisation Union of Turkish Youths in the city of Komotini. Witnesses said that after taking part in a rally against the immigrants in the country around 150 members and supporters of the Greek party headed at the General Consular Office of Turkey. Police managed to stop the protesters and did not let them to the street where the consular office was situated.
Later on, however, angry at being not allowed to reach the consular office the crowd attacked with bottles the members of the Union of Turkish Youths, who were standing in front of the office.

Muslims Suffer Violent Attacks in Bulgaria June 20, 2011

Posted by Yilan in Bulgaria, Human rights, Human rights abuses, Islam, Muslim, Turkey.
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Chief Mufti urges Muslims to defend themselves
Muslims Suffer Violent Attacks in Bulgaria

For the past century, Muslims in the Balkans are the victims of many episodes of ethnic cleansing by the crusaders and later by the Communists in Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria and Greece. As Communism collapsed, the Muslims in Eastern Europe are still facing suppression, discrimination, harassment and intolerance.
Recently, members of the far-right Bulgarian Ataka party have attacked several Muslims who gathered for their usual Friday prayers at a main mosque in downtown Sofia. The supporters of Volen Siderov, the leader of the Bulgarian ultra-nationalist party Ataka, burned carpets used during Friday prayers at Sofia Grand Mosquea and attacked the Muslims with stones and eggs, a Press TV correspondent reported.
Police say several people were injured as nationalists clashed with Muslims during Friday prayers. The Ataka party’s followers had gathered in downtown Sofia to protest against the Muslim community in the country.
The violence erupted after one of the rightist members grabbed a prayer rug and set it on fire, leading to a fight between the two groups. The tension also escalated after an Ataka activist tried to play patriotic music on the loudspeakers of the mosque. Siderov, who is running in the October 11 presidential election, said during the Friday protest that he wants demonstrations against Muslims to continue in Bulgaria.
Around one million Muslims currently live in the country amid grave concerns that the Muslim community could be deprived of their constitutional rights of religious expression if the extremist Ataka party’s leader takes power in the upcoming election.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boyko Borisiv expressed concerns over the incident, saying the ethnic cohesion of the Bulgarian society should be preserved.  But many people say mere words are not enough.
The Bulgarian government has recently forbidden passport pictures with women’s headscarves and banned religious literature from focusing on Islam in a move that has been widely viewed as part of a smear campaign against Muslims in the country.
Muslims Reactions
Part of the Bulgarian society is plagued with islamophobia, the Bulgarian Chief Mufti’s Office has declared in a statement urging the Bulgarian Muslims to take measures to defend themselves against attacks.
The Chief Mufti’s Office, however, complains that numerous similar incidents have followed ever since, and that the Bulgarian state institutions have failed to protect the Muslims in Bulgaria and their worship places. “After this next case of violence against a Muslim and the desecration of a mosque, the Bulgarian Muslims community has received a clear message that the state is either unable to protect us, or doesn’t want to do that, which leaves us in a very hard situation as citizens of the EU who were still hoping that there are sufficiently good democratic mechanisms for preventing repressions against us,” reads the statement of the religious leadership of the Bulgarian Muslims.
“Unfortunately, our hope turned out to be illusionary, our expectations were not met, and we are now aware that we have to provide for our own security and rights. Numerous cases, some of them rather shocking, in the recent years lead us to assume that Muslims are unwanted in this country, and that pressure against us will continue… [They] show that part of the Bulgarian society is hostile and aggressive against Islam, Islamic values, and the Muslim community,” the Chief Mufti’s Office says stressing that the above-described incidents should not be treated as hooliganism or criminal acts “but as a common strategy and intolerance against the Muslims, which could probably lead to more large-scale operations.”
It further calls upon the Muslims in the country to organize day and night guards as volunteers “in order to protect what the state fails to protect – the honor and dignity of Islam and Muslims.”
“These steps are the beginning of a self-protection campaign. We are going to inform you of your next steps depending on the development of the problems and the desires of the community. In conclusion, we turn to our state leaders, institutions, and authorities, to all evil-minded people, to all Islamophobes, to all attackers – do you think that we love Bulgaria less than you, concludes the Chief Mufti’s Office.
Who Are the Bulgarian Muslims?
Muslims in Bulgaria belong to various ethnic groups, such as the Turks, Pomaks, Gypsies and Tatars. The Pomaks are the main Muslim ethnic group in Bulgaria. There are many contradicting views, regarding the origin of Pomaks. According to some historians, they are the descendants of the ancient Slavic or Slavized inhabitants of the Balkans. Some of them converted to Islam at the time of the conquest and during the years that followed. Other groups converted to Islam during the period of the Ottoman Caliphate.
The number of Pomak population changed several times due to the suppression policy by the Christian and communist governments. During and after the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, the biggest waves of Pomak migrated to Turkey.  Bulgaria’s population is approximately 7.9 million according to a 2001 census. Approximately 13 percent of the Bulgarians are Muslims.
Bulgarization of the Muslims
Since the Bulgarian independence in 1908, the nationalist regimes marginalized the Muslims and traditionally considered them as foreigners, even if they were ethnically Bulgarian. The Orthodox Church is very influential and with the help of the Bulgarian nationalists they forced the Muslims to convert to Christianity. All the resisting Muslims were wounded, imprisoned, killed or deported. Thousands of them fled to Turkey and Greece. In the summer of 1989 more than 300,000 Muslims were deported from Bulgaria.
Mosques were converted into churches. Out of the 44 mosques in Sofia only one remained as a historical monument. The largest mosque in Bulgaria was the Tumbul Mosque in Shumen, built in 1744. Muslims were coerced to go to church every Sunday. Circumcision was prohibited, and the people who circumcised their sons were severely punished.
There are pressures on Muslims to change their names, vestment and language. Since 1942 a new law was passed which commanded Muslims to change their names to Bulgarian ones. About 2000 Turkish and Pomak village names were also changed to Bulgarian. Pomaks were banned from attending Turkish schools or use the Turkish language and they were forbidden to open private schools. Then Muslim school boards were abolished and unified with Bulgarian school boards. Thus all their non-Bulgarian daily life was subjected to censure.