Shooting ourselves in the foot

The bill concerning the administration of Muslim pious foundations, or vakifs, in the region of Thrace, northern Greece, that is currently being debated in Parliament is another example of expectation-driven policymaking that fails to take into consideration the long-term effects. While Greece is about to allow the direct election of Muslim administrative committees, the Greek minority in Istanbul can only dream of acquiring an elected administrative committee for their own 54 vakifs. It should be noted that since the end of the war the Turkish state has expropriated some 1,500 priceless properties. Another 10,000 properties were confiscated between 1942 and 1944 under the draconian varlik capital tax that was imposed on minorities. It is not clear whether the bill is connected to the outstanding issue of the Halki Seminary. However, Ankara must reopen the theological school because this is a condition that has been set by the European Union. Halki should not become an object of bargaining between Greece and Turkey. Nevertheless, the Greek government seems prepared to meet a Turkish demand, while Ankara is shying away from an obligation. Worse, the conservative government – and the PASOK socialists who have given their OK – is about to fulfill a Turkish demand in a way that sets a dangerous precedent. According to the bill, every vakif – and not every city – will elect its own administrative committee. This may seem a minor detail but it carries enormous political significance. Using the administration of Muslim charity foundations, the minority will set up its own electoral lists and conduct its own mass voting as an independent group. That system was used back in 1953-64, when the Greek state was urging the Muslim citizens to call themselves Turks. But such goodwill gestures failed to prompt Turkey into displaying a similar attitude toward the Greek minority. Quite the opposite in fact, as the Greek minorities were subjected to successive pogroms. Organizing the minority as a separate electoral body will be the first step toward the election of muftis. Ankara is really pressing in that direction despite the fact that in Turkey muftis are appointed by the ministry. All these, of course, increase the segregation of Muslims living in Greece. The provision that foresees a quota-based recruitment system for hiring Muslims in the state sector is also problematic. We risk ending up with a Muslim-dominated civil service in Thrace, as most Muslims will try to get transferred there. Moreover, such a measure could be classified as reverse discrimination against non-Muslims. Muslims already get a boost thanks to affirmative action at universities and technical colleges. It’s only fair for graduates to seek a job on the same terms. Greece must adhere to international agreements on the protection of minorities. But it is naive to bypass the fact that Ankara is systematically trying to turn the Muslim population in Thrace into a lever of pressure in a bid to destabilize Greek sovereignty in the region.