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Of Greek-Albanian relations in a (supposedly) European context

 

However close to EU settings, politics in the South-Eastern tip of Europe do not lose their Balkan tint: The most recent incident:

The “unnecessary” – according to Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis – visit to Athens by Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama has been concluded without real complications. There were more speeches and musical events and dances with his compatriots than disturbances – as was feared. True enough there were nationalist chants and slogans, but no more than that.

(AP Photo/Michael Varaklas)

The Rama visit had been discouraged by the Greek authorities, to the point that Albanian demands for a suitable venue where Rama would address to his fellow citizens (of which some 300.000 have long been in Greece as immigrants – more than 60% of the migrant population – and a sizeable proportion of them has gained Greek citizenship) in view of upcoming Albanian elections, met with marked reluctance. Problem is, such elections are expected for April 2025; so, even if one factors in the pressure for an information campaign to be launched addressing the effort for the near-1,7 million Albanians living and working outside their country to register for the 2025 elections without having to travel home, May 2024 really seems a peculiar choise of time on part of the Albanian P.M. for his Athens visit.

Speaking of elections, Greeks face a far more immediate target date: in less than a month’s time, elections for the European Parliament are to take place. In the ballot of Nea Dimocratia – the party in Government in Greece which leads the polls for the European elections, albeit with clipped wings –figures prominently Greek-origin Albanian national Fredi Beleris. Beleris currently serves  a two-year sentence in Albanian jail, for attempting to bribe voters in municipal elections for his (Greek-minority, coastal, evolving to tourist-trap) city of Himara.

Greece has blamed the Albanian court decision as politically motivated; the Greek Government and most of the Opposition criticize the Beleris situation as a fundamental rights offence – which might hinder Albania’s candidature for EU accession. (Ensconced between Albania and Greece one finds North Macedonia, whose trek to the EU might also end blocked following recent elections there which could derail the Prespa Agreement with Greece; further complications arise with Bulgaria – but let’s not unfold the whole of the Western Balkans complexity here).

Coming back to the Rama visit to Greece, the Mitsotakis Government was attacked by almost all Opposition parties just for accepting the visit to unfold, as a sign of weakness. The Government retorted that “a European country” could in no way deny a foreign leader the right to visit, nor to address his fellow countrymen –  but nonetheless beefed up security measures. Which – at the end of the day – proved rather unnecessary…

The Beleris Euro-candidature was also showcased as a strong-willed stance of Nea Dimocratia towards Albania, with which the Greek minority issues – along with maritime zones delimitation –  constitute matters of argument.

To be noted: following the expression of official disapproval by the Athens Government for his visit, Edi Rama took pains not only to qualify the visit as a non-official/strictly private decision, but also to chide Greek Opposition parties for their stance, siding with the Mitsotakis Government over the agitation his visit caused. Even more so, he expressed the opinion that positions such as those taken by Greek Opposition offer an explanation of why such parties find themselves in Opposition… He also described his Athens visit as “the most beautiful such visit to Greece”.

Meanwhile, northwards one could watch the swearing-in ceremony of newly-elect North Macedonia President Gordana Siljanowska: she took pains to refer to her country by its former constitutional name “Macedonia”, thus setting aside the Prespa Agreement-mandated “North Macedonia”. The Greek ambassador to Skopje promptly left the ceremony; the Greek Foreign Ministry issued a strong protest, demanding that the Prespa Agreement be respected – while European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen took the same position.

So, however European the context, the political tone remains resolutely Balkan.