by Aggelos Skordas
Some 3,000 Albanian police officers, including riot police squads, arrived in the southern region of Himara on Tuesday in order to oversee and shield the demolition of several properties belonging to members of the Greek minority. The demolition of houses and businesses of ethnic Greeks is, according to Albanian authorities, part of a wider project aiming to boost tourism in the area, which is considered Albania’s top holiday resort. Members of the Greek minority as well as critics both in Greece and Albania have denounced the urban regeneration plan as unconstitutional. At the same time, Athens has repeatedly warned Tirana that demolishing residencies and businesses belonging to ethnic Greeks could cause severe damage to Albania’s European Union candidacy process. Namely, Greek government spokesperson Dimitris Tzanakopoulos declared that Athens is closely monitoring the developments in Himara and is working to safeguard the rights of the Greek minority in the Albanian seaside resort.
On his behalf, the chairman of the Unity for Human Rights Party, which represents the Greek communities in the Albanian parliament- Vangjel Dule, said “Prime Minister Edi Rama wants the people of Himara to be displaced. His behavior towards the Himarite Greeks could only be compared with that of a conqueror… Hereditary property rights of our grandfathers are being violated. Basic principles of the rule of law are being infringed. Functional democracy and respect for the rights of the members of the minority are being violated in broad daylight. Himara, which has endured throughout the centuries with its identity and ideals, many storms like the ones that we have seen today, cannot be defeated by Mr. Rama’s legal perversities and institutional adventures.” Furthermore, he described Himara as a police state due to the presence of thousands of Albanian policemen and charges Rama’s government for creating tension “without any document of legal power”.
The much debated project has also caused the fierce reactions from members of the Greek minority who claim that the Albanian government’s aim is to force them out of their land and thus it employs measures of financial suffocation. On Tuesday morning they gathered near the buildings that were demolished and demonstrated trying to stop bulldozers that earlier tore down a gas station owned by a Greek family. According to Greek government sources, both the Embassy in Tirana and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are in permanent communication with the property owners who are affected by the demolitions. In total, there are some 23 properties which have been planned to be demolished as part of the new urban plan of Himara.
“We call on the Albanian Government to immediately stop any action against the rights of members of the ethnic Greek minority residing in Himara. At the same time, we urge the government to proceed immediately this time, reactions at both bilateral and European level to protect the Greeks of Himara”, an official statement issued by the main opposition party of New Democracy reads.
*Images courtesy of himara.gr