On April 9th, the Supreme Council of Ethnic Hellenes (YSEE), a religious organization working to restore the indigenous religion of Greece, put out a statement saying Greek polytheism has received legal status in Greece.
Prior to this, Greek Pagans did not have religious freedoms such as the ability to buy land to create houses of worship nor could Pagan clergy perform marriage ceremonies.
Yesterday the Secretary of the Supreme council of Ethnic Hellenes (YSEE) announced that after more than twenty years of struggle, the Greek state has finally recognized the Hellenic Religion as a ‘Known Religion’ according to paragraph 17 – the only form of recognition for a religion in Greece. The mentioned paragraph includes the permission to build a temple as well as the right of public exercise of any recognized religion.
The recognition of Hellenic Religion as a ‘Known Religion’ is only the first step towards a general recognition of Hellenism. Now the YSEE at Athens is still waiting for recognition as a religious statutory body in Greece. The Supreme Council of Ethnic Hellenes will approach the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if the state leaves them no other choice, said its Secretary.
Unlike the United States, Greece does not have a blanket freedom of religion law built into its legal system. It is instead governed by the Organization of the Legal Forms of Religious Communities and their Organizations in Greece.
As of now, only six religions outside the Greek Orthodox faith are recognized as ‘known religions.’ And, even those practices that achieve this status often face an uphill battle in exercising their rights. For example, Muslims in Athens have fought for over 10 years to build a mosque, and have so far been unsuccessful.
The recognition of the Greek religion came after it was rejected in 2015. According to the YSEE, the rejection demonstrated that the Greek government, “…has yet to get rid of its byzantine and medieval whims and […] unable to respect with dignity its own laws.”
“It has rejected by intermediate on of its court of First Instance the motion signed by hundreds of Ethnikoi Hellenes to obtain recognition as a statutory corporation of religious character for their ancestral, indigenous, and historically continuous to our day despite cruel persecutions by Christianity.”
YSEE is currently registered as a non-profit organization and, as explained on its website, has been on the front lines in the on-going battle for religious community recognition.
The Wild Hunt spoke with Mr. Vlassis Rassias, the General Secretary of the Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes, about what it means for the Ethnic Hellenic Pagans in Greece and what the next steps are in achieving religious right in Greece.
TWH: If this is the first step towards a general recognition of Hellenism, what is the next step?
Vlassis Rassias: This was recognition of our Religion as such, by the official authorities of the Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Matters. To their credit, they gave us official permission for a place of worship in Athens, thus promoting the Hellenic Ethnic Religion to the status of a “known religion” in Greece, according to article 3 of the Constitution.
The next step for us is the recognition of the official organization of the Hellenic Ethnic Religion (The Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes, YSEE) as a statutory corporation of religious character, according to the relatively recent law 4301/2014, something that is so far absurdly rejected by the Greek courts, which resist our very name, and more particularly the term “Ethnic”, although the official authorities of the state have already accepted us under our proper title Hellenic Ethnic Religion. We have a rather strange situation here, exactly what our ancient ancestors were calling “tragelafos” (“τραγέλαφος”).
TWH: How was YSEE informed that the Hellenic religion is now a known religion?
VR: We received the official reply of the official authorities of the Greek Ministry of Education and Religious Matters, in response to an application of ours that we had submitted together with the requested big number of state documents, certifying the appropriateness of our place of worship, concerning its legality, fire safety, sanitation, and such. The above mentioned reply was also notified to various competent authorities, as the Ministry of Interior, the Registry Office, and such.
TWH: What is gained by being recognized as a religious statutory body?
VR: We are now under the protection of the law, to the same degree as the other 5 – 6 non-christian religions that are already classified as “known religions” in our country. We can henceforth register our children at the Registry Office as belonging to the Hellenic Ethnic Religion, and we shall perform hellenic wedding rituals with full legal value. We still remain though a Non-profit Organization, not a religious statutory body. As a religious statutory body, that is what for the time being is denied to us, we will function more properly in the matters that concern our Religion and, of course, we won’t pay every year the 500 – 1000 euros chargeable since 2011 by the indebted Greek State on all the Non-profit Organizations.
TWH: Was YSEE responsible for this change in status? What did you do to bring this about?
VR: This and all the future attainments of the goals of the Hellenic Ethnic Religion, is and will be the outcome of the uninterrupted, strategic, collective and devoted struggle of our organization that this June celebrates the 20 years of its operation under its present name. A decade before YSEE’s foundation we were operating through “Diipetes” (“Διιπετές”), a now defunct quarterly journal for the moral defense and restoration of our Religion.
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Mr. Rassias says YSEE will be celebrating their religion’s legal recognition during their annual celebration of Charisia-Aphrodesia, which is a religious observance in honor of Aphrodite and the Charities, on April 22nd.