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Date: Fri, 21 Mar 97 13:02:41 CST
From: "N. Tsolak" <>
Subject: Three articles on Albania and the Southern Balkans
GREEK HELSINKI MONITOR (Greek National Committee of the International Helsinki Federation)
& MINORITY RIGHTS GROUP - GREECE (Greek Affiliate of Minority Rights Group International)

Athens misses a trick

By Panayote Elias Dimitras, Koha Jone, 20 March 1997

We are distributing three articles by our spokesperson published in War Report or in - The War Report et al. co-sponsored special English issue of the Albanian newspaper, Koha Jone. This article was published in the 20 March special English edition of Koha Jone. We regret that some unauthorised editing of the article affected some points. We reporduce it here though as published

In 1989, Greece missed an historic chance of becoming a key player in the Balkans: instead of acting as a mediator in the regional conflicts that followed the fall of Communism, its government picked sides - usually the wrong one. In 1997, its handling of the Albanian insurgency cost it a further opportunity of improving its local image, by this time further tarnished by its ill-treatment of the 350,000 Albanian immigrants inside Greece.

Every internal crisis in Albania brings the old Balkan ghost of irredentism out of its Greek closet. After the collapse of the Communist regime, mainstream politicians and parties, ministers among them, joined more extreme voices in reviving Greece's ancient territorial claim to Southern Albanian - still known as Northern Epirus to many Greeks. The area has a substantial Greek minority. On the diplomatic front, the view that 'what Albania asks for Kosova, Greece can ask for Northern Epirus' was promoted mainly by the then ruling conservative New Democracy Party (ND).

When the left wing PASOK government came to power in 1993, and outstanding issues between the two countries had been laid to rest, US mediation resulted in a rapprochement between Greece and Albania was truly impressive. The deteriorating human rights record of President Sali Berisha's government did not prevent the Greek Socialists from throwing their support behind him before and after the rigged elections of May 1996; ND, who had helped Berisha to his earlier election victory in 1992, made no objections. In return for the opening of Greek minority classes in three Southern Albanian towns - though not in Tirana or Himare where Greek pupils were more numerous - metropolitan Greeks and Greek minority leaders became a significan part of the Albanian Democratic Party's constituency at home.

When the current crisis erupted and desperate Albanians took to the streets, Athens stayed silent. With the exception of Deputy Foreign Minister George Papandreou, noone made the connection between an apparent economic crisis and the state of democracy in Albania. The Greek government was more concerned to muster international financial support to alleviate the plight of the victims of the pyramid collapse - and keep Berisha safely in power. In March 1997, a week before he sought reelection to the Presidency, Berisha was invited on a state visit to Greece. The move infuriated the Albanian opposition but came as no surprise to Greece's neighbours. Foreign Minister Pangalos had already indicated by his reference to the Belgrade demonstrators as 'a mob' and a marked lack of sympathy for their counterparts in Sofia that Greece would go for stability before democracy at any price.

When the South finally erupted, Athens was slow to react. It was only after the intervention of the USA, followed by the EU, the Council of Europe and the OSCE, that the Grek government finally understood that its neighbor was suffering from a democratic deficit and offered its mediation. At the same time, fuelled by the war-mongering of the Greek media claiming to have 'discovered' that the Greek minority was directly threatened by the insurgency, members of the ND and voices within PASOK cried wolf and demanded Greek military intervention inside Albanian territory to 'protect' the Greek minority in the South. Given that half of them were already in Greece and that there there was no confirmation of the reports - minority leaders inside Albania were, indeed, denying these allegations - the Greek government was forced to denounce these irredentist voices. However, bowing to the nationalist hysteria whipped up by the Albanophobe media, it persisted in the face of all the evidence to the contrary in demanding public assurances from Albania that the minority would be protected.

So, when Berisha and the Albanian opposition reached their agreement on 9 March, Athens was as jubilant as the latter. It immediately issued a statement expressing unconditional satisfaction. The fact that the Albanian insurgents remained sceptical of the politicians in Tirana and continued to take over the towns of the South, was of little acount to a government that had successfully alienated its Greek minority in Albania - as well as the citizens of that country who were so fierecely opposing Berisha and his government.

Panayote Elias Dimitras

Greek Helsinki Monitor & Minority Rights Group - Greece
P.O. Box 51393
GR-145 10 Kifisia
tel: +30-1-620.01.20
fax: +30-1-807.57.67

Institute on War & Peace Reporting, Index on Censorship, ARTICLE 19, Human Rights Watch, Inter Press Service, with International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, OneWorld Online and Reporters Sans Frontieres.


In collaboration with the above consortium of international free speech and human rights organizations, the editors and journalists of the leading independent Albanian daily, Koha Jone, along with other leading Albanian writers, have put together an English-language edition of Koha Jone. The paper's Tirana offices were destroyed by the Albanian security forces on the night of 2-3 March.

PUBLICATION DATE FOR THE PAPER IS MARCH 20. It includes censored interviews with key opposition figures, reports and analysis on the political situation from the capital and the southern rebellion and details of media repression. Leading newspapers throughout Europe and North America have already featured some of these stories. The paper can also be accessed on the Internet at:

The site will be updated regularly with the latest news from around the country.

For further information contact:

In the UK:
Rebecca Handler, Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 44 171 713 7130
Judith Vidal-Hall, Index on Censorship, 44 171 278 2313
Fiona Harrison, ARTICLE 19, 44 171 278 9292
Urmi Shah Human Rights Watch/Helsinki 44 171 713 1995

In the US:
Fred Abrahams, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki 1 212 972 8400

In Albania:
Helen Darbishire, 355 42 35035 (room 408)