The Romanian Senate has allowed the Latin-speaking Greek minority in southern Albania, known as the Vlahoi (Βλάχοι), to get Romanian citizenship.
According to this law, in order to obtain Romanian citizenship, in addition to being of Vlaho origin, you must also have knowledge of the Latin language and some knowledge of Romanian civilisation.
Although the majority of the Latin-speaking Vlahoi in Albania identify as Greek, Romania is working very hard to Romanianize them. In 2013, a Romanian Information Center opened up in the town of Koritsa (Κορυτσά, Albanian: Korçë), that teaches the Romanian language, culture and heritage for free – and on top of that, even offer some students free travel to European Union member state, Romania.
Koritsa is considered one of the centres for the Greek community in Northern Epirus, southern Albania.
It is little surprise that Romanian-identifying Vlahoi only exist in places where Romanian language schools are set up with the blessing of the Albanian government.
In order to put pressure on the Greek minority in Northern Epirus (about 120,000 people) and control the social awakening of Hellenism, Albania recognised a Romanian-Vlahoi minority in 2012.
Romania believes that because the Vlahoi speak a language similar to Romanian, they are in fact Romanian and not Greek.
As Albania knows it occupies Northern Epirus, which seeks union with Greece, weakening Greek identity with strong Romanian backing serves a powerful agenda for both of their countries.
Albania weakens the Greek minority while Romania can have a citizenship boost as its population continues to decline.
In effect, Albania and Romania are colluding in an anti-Greek action.
Greek City Times spoke exclusively with Mikel Mihallari, a Vlaho from Koritsa.
When asked by Greek City Times if the majority of Vlahoi considered themselves Greek or Romanian, he said without a doubt that “We are Greeks. Our origin comes from the Pindus Mountains and historically we are always side by side with other Greeks, whether it be in battle or creating families together.”
He told Greek City Times that Romania has one consulate in his hometown of Koritsa and sometimes they have some cultural evenings, “but only small ones.”
“Most Vlahoi in Koritsa consider themselves Greeks, as we have generation after generation,” he said.
Mihallari says that only a small amount of Vlahoi identify as Romanian, probably in the hope of getting a Romanian passport.
He said that Romania wants to “take our history and cause problems by saying that Greece has never been strong and that our real identity is Romanian.”
However, how is it that Greek people became Latin-speakers? Greek City Times spoke with historian and Balkan researcher Marios Mathios-Josefidis.
He explains that because the Balkan peninsula is the most historical place in Europe that had many events occurring in, there are many mysteries and challenges that need to be solved.
“One of these is the case of the Vlahoi – not only because the existence of this Balkan population, but because how they have become a diplomatic weapons for Romania, Albania and Greece,” he said, adding that “the Vlahoi are speaking a Latin language that is very close to the Romanian language, and for this reason the Romanian government tries to say they are a Romanian minority. This claim began in the 20th century and has created serious issues in Greek-Romanian diplomatic relations.”
The historian explains that the Romanians claim the Vlahoi left Romania between the 6th and 10th centuries AD in search of better agricultural lands, but that this theory has a “logical paradox.”
“Why would the Vlahoi leave the rich agricultural lands of Romania for mountainous and not profitable agricultural lands in today’s Greece and Albania, where they mostly reside today,” he questioned.
Although he says he does not know exactly where the Vlahoi came from, he emphasised that they have always fought in Greek struggles and identified as Greek, and explained the most credible theory known – that they were Latinised mercenaries in the Roman Army.
“According to this theory, the Vlahoi are successors of Greeks who were Latinised when they served as mercenaries for the Roman Army as a garrison force to protect Via Egnantia (Ἐγνατία Ὁδός), an ancient Roman road,” he said.
“Supporting this theory is the fact that the location of the Vlahoi is also along this road. In addition, the Vlahoi feel more close to Greeks, thus also supporting this theory too,” the historian said.
Mathios-Josefidis explained that Romania throughout the 20th century have attempted to Romanianise these people.
“Although they speak a similar language, all Latin languages in the Balkans are similar, and with this Romania has wanted to use them as a geopolitical tool,” he concluded.