Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Vlachs, or Vlachophone Greeks, are traditionally mountain pastoralists. There are two Vlach languages in Greece: Megleno-Romanian, spoken by a population calling itself ‘Vlasi’, and Arumanian, spoken by people calling themselves Armin. Arumanian has many dialects, one of which is a neo-Latin language, Aromani, related to Romanian.
The majority of the Vlach population lives in northern Greece, in scattered rural communities. The main areas inhabited by these populations are the Pindus Mountains, Meglan, around Lake Prespa and the mountains of Olympus and Vermion. Vlachs are more tolerated than other minority groups by the Greek state.
In the early Middle Ages the Vlachs had powerful independent kingdoms. Under the Ottoman Empire, Vlachs supported Greek political and cultural causes, and they played a leading part in Greek independence. However, some Vlachs, particularly in Macedonia, were attracted to Romania, and Romania established schools in Macedonia when it was under Ottoman rule. The 1913 treaty allowed for these schools to continue in the Greek state. During World War II an army of Vlach fascists was set up – ‘The Roman Legion’ – and an autonomous ‘Principality of Pindus’ was formed. The post-war Romanian state discontinued its support of Vlach schools and churches.
In 2001 Vlach language activist Sotiris Bletsas was tried for ‘propaganda against the Greek state’ for distributing some material about linguistic minorities in Greece from the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages at a Vlach festival in Greece in 1995. He was first found guilty and sentenced to 15 months in jail and fined 500,000 drachmas for ‘dissemination of false information’ under Article 191 of Greece’s penal code. He appealed the decision and was subsequently found not guilty on 18 October 2001. In December 2005 three journalists were found guilty of defaming Sotiris Bletsas in an article published in September 2004.
In August 2003 the Greek Federation of Cultural Associations of Vlachs objected to the direct or indirect characterization of the Vlach-speaking Greeks as an ethnic, linguistic or other type of minority, a position expressed in a subsequent report issued by the American organization Freedom House. The Federation asserted that Vlach-speaking Greeks never asked to be recognized as a minority by the Greek state as both historically and culturally they were, and still are an integral part of Hellenism.
Vlach cultural societies are permitted, and there is a Panhellenic Union of Vlach Cultural Associations. Vlachs are more tolerated than other minority groups by the Greek state. However, the official view is that Vlachs are Greeks who speak an unusual dialect, and there is popular hostility to the use of the Aromanian language, which has been internalized by many Vlachs themselves. This, combined with urbanization and other social, political and economic factors, has resulted in the language’s decline.
Updated September 2018