COMMENT

Political games in Thrace

By Stavros Lygeros

By appointing Gulbeyaz Karahasan, a Greek Muslim, as PASOK nominee for Drama-Kavala-Xanthi prefect, Socialist leader George Papandreou has made a heavy political statement. In electoral terms, insecurity and the public impression that Muslim politicians operate more as mouthpieces of the Turkish government than as minority representatives have caused Christian voters to be skeptical if not negative. Particularly in the Drama and Kavala municipalities, where there is no Muslim minority, voters are not exactly happy that they are expected to pick a Muslim, and previously unknown, candidate. On the other hand, because Karahasan is not controlled by the Turkish Consulate, she will meet opposition from it. Nevertheless, her candidacy will affect the minority's internal balance and future orientation. The controversy triggered by PASOK's nomination is all the more interesting in light of Ankara's attempts to create a climate of «controlled tension» in western Thrace. These attempts continue despite the fact that Athens long ago halted any policy of discrimination against the Pomak and Roma populations in western Thrace, which once did nothing but push these people into the arms of Turkey. But Ankara interprets the minority issue in terms of geopolitical antagonism, not human rights, so it is using the Muslims to pressure Athens. Since the launch of its EU accession talks, Turkey has been under fire on the Cyprus issue as well as over respect for religious freedoms. As for Thrace, Ankara feels it can offset EU pressure by turning the minority against the state and then accuse Athens of oppressing the Muslims. The Turkish Consulate in Komotini has for years constituted an unofficial power in the region. It offers stewardship to minority leaders and, to a large degree, manipulates local Christian leaders who need the Muslim vote.

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