Language boost for Muslims

Turkish might be introduced as a second language in schools for the Muslim minority of Thrace, the government said yesterday, following a top-level meeting on improving the lot of Greece’s minorities. Telemachos Hytiris, spokesman for Prime Minister Costas Simitis, told journalists that an interministerial committee would meet within the next 10 days to discuss «several outstanding issues and problems that must be addressed.» «These problems are chiefly of a bureaucratic nature, have to do with delays and will be immediately confronted,» Hytiris said following a meeting chaired by Simitis. Under pressure from journalists, Hytiris offered further information. He said matters to be considered by the committee would include the introduction of Turkish, as a second language on the curriculum from the first levels of education at schools for the Muslim minority. «We view this positively, for that is how things should be,» he said. «Beyond any discussions that may be going on with [Turkey], Greece must behave as a modern, democratic member of the European Union.» Greece insists that the minority in Thrace, which mostly consists of people of Turkish, Gypsy and Pomak descent, must be described as Muslim, rather than Turkish. A case is pending in the Supreme Court on whether an association of Muslims in the Thracian town of Xanthi may use the name Turkish Union of Xanthi. Hytiris said other measures under consideration ahead of the forthcoming meeting include giving the minority the right to elect the managers of Muslim property – who are now state-appointed. But the right of election will not extend to religious leaders. He added that the government wants to increase the 0.5 percent quota for Muslim minority school leavers at Greek universities.