MON, 05 SEP 1994 21:03:58 GMT
AIM, PRISTINA, September 1, 1994.
Summary: The deterioration of Albanian - Greek relations, particularly after the court proceedings against the five members of the "Omonija" a party which gathers the Greek minority in Albania, did not pass unobserved in Kosovo where unreserved support is given to the policy pursued by Albanian President, Salji Berisa. On the other hand, however, the current situation is not considered so dramatic as to provoke an armed conflict between these two states, and because Greek aspirations towards Northern Epirus can never realized. Actually, in Kosovo it it considered that this crisis has been programmed by certain regional centres of power in order to divert attention from the Bosnian problem, and for taking a feigned strategic counter-position for the next big trouble spot in the Balkans - Kosovo. The bringing up of the issue of the status of the Greek minority in Albanian on the part of Greece is a sort of counter-balance vis-a-vis Albanian aspirations towards an independent Kosovo, since with that kind of status Kosovo would practically secure an equitable position in Balkan affairs. Concerns have been expressed that by forming their own state or states on a wider ethnic space the Albanians would come to represent a powerful western pillar of the Turkish/Islamic transversale that would "cut off" Greek Orthodoxy from Serbia and the Orthodox East. It is therefore considered that the political moves of Athens and Belgrade are closely interconnected.
The latest deterioration of Albanian-Greek relations is followed with great interest in Kosovo too. Developments in Tirana, where five Albanian nationals of Greek origin are on trial, is the main topic of the statements issued by the political parties rallying Albanians, and in the focus of attention of the commentaries of the local media. On the other hand, the drastic measures taken by the Greek authorities, primarily, the deportation of tens of thousands of Albanian immigrants working in Greece, who have frequently been subjected to police torture, is interpreted here as a form of premeditated state retaliation and pressure on young Albanian democracy. Naturally, the general public in Kosovo fully and unquestioningly supports the policy pursued by the current authorities in Albania, condemns Greece sharply for its actions and brings into close connection its policy the with the anti-Albananian one pursued by the regime in Belgrade.
The only daily paper in the Albanian language in Kosovo, the "Bujku" published an article under the title "Byzantine Vandalism Against Peace" in which it is noted that the trial in Tirana has brought to the fore incontestable evidence no only of the "subversive activities of the members of "Omonija", aimed at undermining the Albanian state," but on the involvement of the Greek state in these subversive actions throught the activities of the Greek Orthodox church and agents of the Greek secret service "Asfalia". Official Greece,the articles goes on, "wishes to prevent the consolidation of the Albanian state, as a precondition for the national consolidation of Albanians on their entire ethnic space," as the scattering of the Albanian national aspirations is one of the main objectives of Greece's Balkan policy.
Still, the new deterioation of Greek-Albanian relations is not assessed here as overly dramatic, and what is more important, the possibility of its escalating into a war conflict is practically excluded. Greek aspirations towards Northern Epirus are considered not only completely illegitimate and ungrounded, but unfeasible as well. The international community, including the Greek allies in the EU and NATO, would have very little understanding for the expansionist ambitions of some Greek extremist political and religious circles, with whom some leading Greek politicians, such as Panpandreou, whose PASOK is the ruling party, and Micotacis the leader of the opposition partty, New Democracy, openly flirted.
On the other hand, the Albanian general public in Kosovo is quite concerned about the impact the Greek-Albanian conflict could have on the Balkan crisis, and, particularly, the resolution of the Albanian question. Namely, it is considered here that the existing crisis in the south of the Balkans has been programmed from various regional centres of power in order to divert attention from the Bosnian problem and in order to create an artificial strategic counterposition for the nex big trouble spot on the Balkans - Kosovo.
Greece has brought up the question of Northern Epirus and the status of the Greek minority not because it is convinced in its actual chances of annexing it or gradually Hellenizing southern Albanian, but rather because it believes that this issue can be utilized in present and future diplomatic actions as a direct counterbalance to Albanian aspirations to achieve Kosovo's independence. In other words, Greece is opposing the independence of Kosovo because such a turn of events would result in the considerable strengthening of the Albanian factor in the Balkan policy-making and thereby, in a new distribution of power and new relations in the region.
Independent Kosovo would ensure in a very short period of time an equitable status of Albanians in Balkan affairs, somethig that both Athens and Belgrade wish to prevent. It is therefore, considered that the political actions of Athens and Belgrade are very closely coordinated and that such an anti-Albanian policy has influential external instigators and supporters (for instance Russia, but according to some speculations, Great Britain as well...)
Greek political and strategic frustrations in the case of both Macedonia and Epirus, are in fact related to the possibility of Greece being completely continentally isolated by a transversal made up of an area inhabited by a population consisting of a considerable number,if not an overwhelming majority of Muslims, still distributed to the main part in the belt of the former Turkish Rumelia (Thrace, Macedonia, Albania, Sandzak and Bosnia) dominated economically, politically and most probably militarily by Turkey as the most powerful regional force to which the outlines of the new world order give realistic chances of party renewing its old dominion. The powerfull pressures exerted by Greece on Macedonia, with the tacit support and cooperation of Serbia, represent an attempt to prevent at a sensitive spot the possibility of forming such a Turkish/Islamic transversal.
According to Greek concerns, Macedonia in itself is not such a problem as are the Albanians who could, if they grow in strength and create a state (or states) on a broader ethnic space, become a powerful Western pillar of the Turkish/Islamic transversal that would " cut off" Greek Orthodoxy from Serbia and further with the Orthodox East.
Such a paranoiac, anti-Turkish, namely, anti-Albanian and anti-Macedonian policy has given to date mainly exceptionally counterproductive results. Macedonia and Albania have found a political, economic and strategic interest precisely in pushing for the old Rumellian transversal, as one of the shortest roads that connect Europe with the Near East. Projects exist for new modern highways and railroads which connect Istanbul with Skopje and further on with the ferry ports in Albanian and Italy or else their construction has already begun. Greece is not powerfull enough to pursue a high-risk war strategy of breaking up this transversal which is extremely "unsuitable", as Serbia dared to do by starting a war in Bosnia, under the pretext that it was solving the Serbian issue in Bosnia, and generally, in former Yugoslavia.
Greece lacks even the excuse of resolving the Greek ethnic issue, because in the contraversial regions there is no Greek minority, except partly in Northern Epirus. It is therefore desperately pressing on the question of Northern Epirus, relying constantly in the process on the fact that the general public abroad will not really know how matters acatually stand when it presents practically the entire Orthodox population in Southern Albanian as members of the Greek minority, although they are to the most part, ethnically, and by their feeling, Albanians. It is said that about 400 thousand Greeks live in Albania, a fact often repeated in the Serbian press, although that is actually the approximate number of the Orthodox population in Albania, out of which only about 15% (or about 60 thousand) are ethnic Greeks, while the others are ethnic Albanians who traditionally had their own independent church and have historically passed through numerous stages of giving resistance to Greek assimilation projects.
On the other hand, the Greek anti-Albanian policy is very vulnerable and counterproductive vis-avis another important aspect of unprincipledness, because it is based on the postulate of denying the existence of national minorities in Greece itself. It does not permit the free expression of national affiliairon to the Albanians, Macedonians, Tzintzars and Turks who live in Greece. With what right can it then bring up the question of protecting minority rights in Norther Epirus? The comments of the Albanians press and television are increasingly focusing on the question of reciprocity of rights of the population of Southern Epirus, which in the past was inhabited mainly by Albanians, and where Albanian villages still exist and semi-assimilated Albanians still live in the villages of Janina, Kostur and other larger settlements.
Finally, the third counterproductive item of the present Greek policy is its abortive attempt to destabilize Albania. Neither last year's or the most recent deterioration of relations with Greece did not weaken, but on the contrary strengthened Sali Berisha's administration. Actually, by making an affair of the trial to the members of the Greek minority, Greece was taken in by Berisha's provocation, and most probably by the signals from certain opposition circles in Albanian who believed a new conflict with Greece, as well as the renewed expulsion of Albanians from Greece could shake up Berisha's power.
Berisha however derived double benefit from the crisis, because he organized a public trial and thereby acquired overwhelming support both of the domestic and international public, while on the other hand he organized over the media yet another campaign of national awakening and homogenization of Albanians, winning thereby a political and national battle in the Southern part of the country too, which was becoming increasinly economically and culturally dependent on Greece.
As far as Albanian opposition leaders were concerned, namely, those who condemned the legal proceedings against the members of the Greek minority and gave extremely sharp "anti-regime" statements to the Greek media, including calls for help in the overthrowing of President Berisha, who was accused for Islamic fundamentalism, i.e, that he ruled Albania "like a Turk", a bitter campaign was launched in Albania, and particularly in Kosovo, against them (Hajdaraga, Pellumbi, Dokle, Ceka and Imami). In the local papers they were called "bastards who deserve the pillory" and accused for nationalist blindness and for acting in the anti-Albanian interests of the neighbouring countries, namely, alliance of the axis Moscow-Belgrade-Athens."
The opposition leaders were called puppets who are "flirting with Belgrade and Athens at the expense of resolving the Kosovo problem", namely, who are expressing readiness " to join those who are prepared to sacrifice Kosovo, Albanians from Macedonia and Southern Epirus." Among some nationally over-sensitive circles in Kosovo mention is made of a specific Orthodox-Communist conspiracy against the affirmation of the Albanian national issue in the Balkans. In order to support this theory reference is made to the contacts the leaders of the Albanian Socialist Party had with Greek and Serbian Socialists, as well as to the similarity of their programme to those of the SPS and PASOK. When coupling Orthodoxy and Communism in Albania, allusions are made to the fact that the regime of the former Albanian dictator, Enver Hodza, although he himself was a Muslim who embraced Communist atheism, was most ardently supported precisely by the Orthodox population in the South of Albania.
In any case political divisions in Albania are neither greater or smaller than they were previously, but the present day democratic authorities have greater credibility for their national policy and for placing emphasis on the Kosovo issue. Although, Albanian President Berisha did not follow the instructions of the more extreme nationalists, and has been giving as of late increasingly compromising statements on Kosovo, in Albania he is considered a politician of "pro-Kosovo" orientation, that is, who considers Kosovo of primary national interest. These circles believe that Kosovo was and still is the pivot of Albanian nationalism.
We can conclude by saying that the Greek-Albanian relations on all levels are a reflection of the current Balkan reality marked by deep national and state conflicts. Up to now, Albanian nationalism has not pursue the war paths of Serbian nationalism, but since it is on the rise at present, one never knows where that path will lead. Especially if a change takes place in the set of rational Albanian politicians such as Berish i Rugova.