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Greek Culture Minister Defends Legality of Ban on Women’s Access to Mount Athos

 
 

On 20 January Greek Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos met in Brussels with a delegation of Eurodeputies and the Europarliament’s Culture Committee President Michel Rocard and discussed with them the issue of the Mount Athos monastic community’s ban on women’s access, reports Athens News Agency.

Venizelos explained the legal status of the 20 monastery strong community that enjoys special status for Mount Athos established in the Accession Treaty of Greece to the EEC, which was reaffirmed in Amsterdam. He also stressed that the peninsula is self-governed and all the land there belongs to the monasteries and is therefore private, without exception and without any of it belonging to the public or the central Greek state.

Venizelos alluded to the status of the Roman Catholic Church, while the Vatican, although being a member of the Council of Europe as a state, is represented solely by men and the European Union correctly accepted a close relationship with that state.

‘The ban on women at Mount Athos and the regulations of administration of the Catholic Church, as well as that of other churches and all similar issues, are elements of a tradition which the EU should confront with tolerance and a pluralistic attitude which characterizes European civilization,’ Venizelos said. No objections were raised by the Eurodeputies or Rocard.

The issue of Mount Athos’ ban was raised in Europarliament on 14 January when a slim majority voted a non-binding ‘resolution on the situation concerning basic rights in the European Union’. Article 98 of the resolution, which was approved by 277 votes to 255, ‘requests the lifting of the ban on women entering Mount Athos in Greece, a geographical area of 400 km2, where women’s access is prohibited in accordance with a decision taken in 1045 by monks living in the twenty monasteries in the area, a decision which nowadays violates the universally recognised principle of gender equality, Community non-discrimination and equality legislation and the provisions relating to free movement of persons within the EU.’

The all-male monastic community on a peninsula in northern Greece is semi-autonomous and has for 10 centuries barred the entry of women, as they dedicated their community to the memory of Mary the Mother of God, thus their monastic community is also called the ‘Garden of Mary the Theotokos.’ The ban is not enforced by the Greek government but by the elected council of the monastic community, which is multinational, as monastic communities on Mount Athos represent all nationalities of the Orthodox Christian Church.

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