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Assessment for Greeks in Albania

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Greeks in Albania, 31 December 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/469f3a532.html [accessed 11 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Albania Facts
Area:    28,489 sq. km.
Capital:    Tirana
Total Population:    33,310,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

At present, ethnic Greeks in Albanis have very low risks of rebellion. Over the recent years, the group has experienced an increase in minority rights, in line with the general democratic changes that have taken place in Albania since 1990. The Greeks' major complaints under the government of the Democratic Party, their cultural discrimination and lack of access to the electoral process, do not constitute a real concern for this group as of 2003. The cultural rights of the ethnic Greeks have been officially protected since 1997 when the Albanian Socialist government committed itself to a policy of providing opportunities for the ethnic Greeks "to be educated in their native language and to move freely wherever it is good for them" (Fatos Nano). In addition, ethnic Greeks living in Albania have benefited economically, due to the special relationship they enjoy with Greece. In short, the unopposed ethnic Greeks' participation in Albanian politics indicates that the group is unlikely to experience disadvantages from policies of deliberate group discrimination.

Nevertheless, many serious risks remain. Chief among them is the general instability and hardship created by Albania's rocky democratic and economic transition, which add fuel to Albanian and Greek nationalist rhetoric. The Greek government's support of the Albanian Socialists has impacted the internal balance of political forces in Albania. In addition, elements within the Greek Orthodox Church seem very willing to support irredentist operations in southern Albania, and the past and present governments have been willing to use nationalism as political capital for diversionary and electoral benefits. The combination of a desperate group with an organized and powerful supporter can lead to greater volatility.

Ethnic Greek protest will probably continue at low levels as leaders continue to agitate for increased cultural (in particular, language) rights within Albania.

Analytic Summary

Concentrated in the southern part of Albania, adjacent to the state borders with Greece (REGIONAL = 1, GROUPCON = 3), ethnic Greeks constitute a linguistically, culturally, and religiously distinct minority in Albania. The group's identity is essentially inseparable from the Orthodox Christian faith (ETHNOG = 1, LANG = 1, CUSTOM = 1, BELIEF = 3, RELIGS1 = 3, ETHDIFXX = 8).

Like other ethnic minorities in the Balkan states, the Greek minority within Albania can point to a long history to legitimize its ties to portions of southern Albania. Parts of modern day southern Albania, referred to as Northern Epirus by Greeks, served as homes to Hellenized peoples with the culture and language of Greece (AUTLOST = 2). The region's Greek characteristics did not erode after its Roman domination in 167 B.C., and Epirus served as a Hellenized principality under the ensuing Byzantine Empire (476 A.D.). Although ethnic Greek claims to portions of southern Albania can be substantiated historically, the degree of Epirotan penetration into present day southern Albania, in terms of population, territory, and culture, is heavily disputed. By 1354 the Ottoman Empire had consumed much of the Balkans, and in 1453, the Turkish conquest of Constantinople (Istanbul) marked the end of the Byzantine Empire and ushered in four hundred years of Turkish hegemony. Under the control of the Ottoman Empire, the majority of Albanians gradually converted to the faith of their conquerors. Lacking the deep Christian roots of other conquered peoples, ethnic Albanians readily accepted Islam in order to maintain ownership over their lands, and to receive preferential treatment. In the 18th century, while under the effective control of Albanian feudal lords, a major influx of Greeks settled in present day Gjirokaster district of southern Albania to labor as field workers (TRADITN = 2).

In the early 20th century, turbulence and tumult devastated Eastern Europe as warring armies battled the decaying Ottoman Empire. Following the Turkish Revolution of 1908-09, and the Turko-Italian war of 1911-12, the Balkan nations of Greece, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria united to rid the region of Ottoman influence and bring to fruition their own territorial desires. The Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 greatly expanded the prestige and territory of Greece and Serbia. Under these circumstances, effective lobbying by Albanian nationalists, and attempts to contain the power of Serbia and Greece, resulted in the creation of the modern Albanian nation by a commission given that task by the Conference of Ambassadors of the five great powers in 1913. The politics of force and intrigue were the order of day, and the borders created and conquered by Balkan nations in the early 20th century left millions of ethnic Albanians within Serbia and Montenegro, and left the Greek claims on southern Albania (Northern Epirus) unfulfilled. The years of the two World Wars brought about cycles of Albanian, Greek, Italian, and German control over southern Albania, but the borders between Greece and Albania remained essentially unchanged from the 1913 frontiers created by the Conference of Ambassadors. Greek supporters of unification with southern Albania also cite the 1914 Protocol of Corfu, which essentially designated all of southern Albania to belong to Greece. However, the 1921 Paris Conference annulled the Protocol of Corfu, and validated the 1913 borders created by the Conference of Ambassadors. From 1944 to April 1985, Albania existed under the absolutist rule of Enver Hoxha. Although violations of human rights were all too common and political prisoners numbered well into the thousands, the Greek minority was not the target of specific discrimination. With the death of Enver Hoxha in April 1985, and the final demise of communist hegemony in March of 1992, Albania headed in a completely different direction. After forty years of centralized rule, Albania attempted to follow a path defined by capitalism and freer political participation. As a country whose every institution was centrally controlled, Albania quickly disintegrated economically and politically.

Amid such high levels of economic ruin and social unrest, it is difficult to judge and substantiate any campaign of discrimination against ethnic Greeks in southern Albania. The group does not suffer disproportionate levels of demographic or ecological stress (DEMSTR99-03 =0, ECOSTR99-03 = 0). While all Albanians face high levels of economic stress due to Albania's tumultuous economic transition, ethnic Greeks have in fact been favored in granting visas, residence and work permits, receiving education for their children, and enjoying medical assistance, etc. in Greece. In this respect, Albanian citizens with ethnic Greek background have been privileged. There have also been improvements in the group's cultural and political representation. The Greeks' major complaints under the government of the Democratic Party have been cultural discrimination and lack of access to the electoral process. The cultural rights of the ethnic Greeks have been officially protected since 1997 when the Albanian Socialist government committed itself to a policy of providing opportunities for the ethnic Greeks to be educated in their native language. Greek-language secondary schools were opened in 2002.

Nonetheless, this does not mean that there are no problems at all. The group's main demands have been focused for some time on the opening of new Greek language classes in cities with a large proportion of ethnic Greeks, such as Gjirokaster, Saranda and Delvina as well as on strengthening the implementation of newly adopted minority laws.

Several conventional political parties serve as the main platform for voicing group's grievances and demands, including the Democratic Union of Greek Ethnic Minority, the Human Rights Party, and The Union of Human Rights Party, among others. In addition, Albanian Greeks have traditionally found an important ally in the Albanian Socialist Party, which according to some observers raises suspicions about Greek conspiracy in Albanian politics.

Also to be considered are the activities of neighboring Greece – the main external sponsor of the group – which has advanced political, diplomatic, financial and military support to the Albanian Socialists. The Greek government's support of the Albanian Socialists has impacted the internal balance of political forces in Albania. Ethnic Greeks have also, at times, found support from the EU, as Albania seeks admission into that body and must therefore adhere to the EU's national minority policies.

References

Lexis-Nexis news reports. 2000-2003.

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Albania. 2001-2003.

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