Greece's Albanian Policy


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Date: Fri, 16 Oct 1998 09:46:59 +0300 (EET DST)
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Subject: Greece's Albanian Policy

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Original sender: Panayote Elias Dimitras <dimitras@ceu.hu>

Greece's Albanian Policy


Greece’s Albanian Nightmares
 
Panayote Elias Dimitras
Greek Helsinki Monitor and Minority Rights Group - Greece
(29/9/1998, AIM Athens)
 
"Beware of Greeks baring gifts!" Could that be a legitimate comment of
an observer, especially an Albanian or a Kosovar one, towards recent
Greek policy on the Kosovo issue? Such conclusion may have tentatively
been drawn when one listened to Foreign Minister Theodore Pangalos
calling in early September Milosevic a moderate and the Kosovo
Albanian side radicals, on the basis of their respective stands on the
conflict.
 
Why an allusion to deceit? Because (see our "Efforts to Rationalize
Greece’s Balkan Policy: the Kosovo Case" AIM July 1998) Greek foreign
policy in the first half of 1998 had impressed many an observer with
what had appeared as a pragmatic turn, symbolically characterized by
strong criticism of Milosevic’ handling of that very crisis. Why then
Pangalos, a few months later, made statements that gave the impression
that there was a new Greek tilt away from newly found realism? Enter
Greece’s traditional "Albanian nightmares," fears of recurring
manifestations of Albanian nationalism that are received as direct
threats to Greece’s "national interests."
 
It was explained in Athens that Pangalos’ surprising statement was a
direct consequence of a first hand experience he had with supposed or
actual KLA sympathizers if not leaders in Tirana, just before going to
Belgrade. These Kosovars were reported to have told the Greek foreign
minister that KLA’s future aspirations, once their current struggle is
vindicated in Kosovo, will include the rights of Albanians in
Macedonia and Greece, with the ultimate aim to assemble all Albanians
in one state.
 
That was considered as a completely unacceptable position, which
turned the KLA into a potential enemy of Greece and certainly a
current adversary. So any actions of Milosevic aimed at frustrating
this ambitious rebel organization were naturally welcome in Athens.
After all, Greece does not recognize any ethnonational minority on its
territory: not even the Turks or the Macedonians who do exist and
actively seek their right to self-determination in ways that have
deservedly been embarrassing the country’s diplomatic services. So,
introducing an argument in favor of a completely non-existent
ethnonational group will not win the favors of anyone, even in the
small human rights and/or anti-nationalist community that has
consistently denounced Serbian atrocities in the 1990s and backed the
Kosovars’ legitimate demands. Theodore Pangalos does certainly not
belong to the latter group, so the outrageous KLA claims made him
loose patience with that group.
 
It need be mentioned here that almost a quarter of a million Greeks
belong to families whose traditional mother tongue, called by them
Arberichte -in their language- or Arvanitika -in Greek-,
linguistically belongs to the Albanian language group and, more
specifically, the Tosk (Southern Albanian) sub-group. However, most of
these people had developed a Greek national consciousness in the first
half of the last century, well before the "Albanian Renaissance." They
had fought in, if not led, the Greek struggles for independence in the
nineteenth century; and had clearly opted not to be amalgamated with
the emerging Albanian nationalism and the later ensuing Albanian
nation around the turn of the century. Regrettably, the Greek state
undeservingly questioning their allegiance forced an assimilation upon
them which has led to a dramatic decline of the use of the language
and has in reaction to that led most of them to become staunch
nationalists, just as in the case of most Vlachs: most human and
minority rights activists are in fact the target of Arvanites and
Vlachs when they merely refer to them as linguistic minorities. So,
the worst way to prevent their cultural specificities from becoming
extinct is to make them part of the Albanian irridenta.
 
The latter is one of the reasons why Greeks from all walks of life
despise today Sali Berisha, who had, in a few occasions, alluded to
the existence of an Albanian minority in Greece. Moreover, and more
importantly, the unfortunate policy choices of his government towards
the Greek minority in Albania, culminating in the disgraceful trial of
four leaders of the Greek minority organization "Omonoia" in 1994,
have decisively alienated most Greeks.
 
Therefore, when the crisis following the assassination of one of
Berisha’s main associates Hajdari erupted in Albania, hardly anyone
sympathized with his party’s all out startegy to unseat the Nano
government, even among the theoretically and ideologically closer to
him Greek conservatives, who had in fact actively helped him come to
power in 1992. So, for example, almost all Greek media adopted
uncritically the "coup d’etat" description of Berisha’s actions by the
Nano government, which hardly any other Western media did. While
Minister of Defense Akis Tsohatzopoulos "explained" the unrest in
Tirana as another manifestation of Albanian extremism like the
preceding one in Kosovo. He had simply expressed the -widespread in
Athens- belief that KLA was directly linked to Berisha and only to
him.
 
So, the fear of Berisha was the driving force behind Greek reactions
to the September 1998 crisis in Albania. His own explicit attacks
against Greece, during the crisis, when he alleged that Greek
policemen played a direct role in arresting his supporters in Northern
Albania, were the climax of an attitude that helped revive among
Greeks their "Albanian nightmares." This is why when Nano resigned and
it was announced that he would be replaced by a socialist colleague of
his, no one in Athens even bothered to worry or say that he would be
missed. Nano’s support in Athens was never solid: he was simply
considered as the most convenient way to keep Berisha far away from
power. If Albanians could find an alternative, which in fact may be
more efficient in discrediting Berisha’s antics, he would immediately
be welcomed in Athens, where the continuation of the "honeymoon" in
the bilateral relations is all that matters.

_______________________________________
 
Greek Helsinki Monitor &
Minority Rights Group - Greece
P.O. Box 51393
GR-14510 Kifisia
Greece
Tel. +30-1-620.01.20
Fax +30-1-807.57.67
e-mail: office@greekhelsinki.gr
http://www.greekhelsinki.gr
________________________________________

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