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Greece and Its Albanian Neighbours

April 17, 2012

The Framework and the Conditions for a Complete Strategic Cooperation.

By Alexandros Mallias, Metarrythmisi, 26.02.2012 (translated from the Greek)


Alexandros Mallias

The celebration of 100 years from the foundation of the independent state of Albania comes at a time when political relations of Greece with our neighbour are in a state of immobility and I dare say stagnation. They are characterised by stationarity and a lack of positive energy. The political contacts between the two countries are limited. They are usually carried out in the margin of some international meeting. Never in the past – with the exception of the “stone” twenty months between July 1993-March 1995 – have we had such a lack of contacts, visits, structured dialogue and bilateral consultations on a political level.

And let us not forget that with the decision of the NATO summit in Bucharest, three years ago, Greece and Albania are allies.

Athens, already in 2010, chose to downgrade the bilateral contacts and consultations with Tirana to the level of a staff General Secretary. Departmental consultations and contacts at this level are usual in relations, for example, between countries of the EU. EU ministers meet frequently; almost every week. In the Balkans, however, they can only be characterised as a lack of interest or moroseness. They send the message on the other hand of intent and disposition, without, however, initiating solutions. They can not provide an exit or a disengagement. Especially when the backlog demands political responsibility and political decisions.

The Greek sides estimates that with this action it is reacting to the rescission of Albania on the issue of validating the Agreement for the Definition of the Sea Shelf and the Maritime Zones and to annoying manifestations of organised political factions that are related to the so called Chams. And also in relation to the Greek National Minority.

In reality, the absence of a complete plan, with a beginning, a middle and an end, with a real involvement of the Greek government in seeking an exit and solutions on a political level, where that is possible, is not something that worries or troubles Albania.

Why? The answer is simple: Because the Albanian side – both the government of Prime Minister Sali Berisha and the opposition of Edi Rama – consider on their side that today’s Greece is weak and at a loss, as, according to Tirana, it does not have the will, maybe even the possibility, to discuss and advance toward dealing with certain issues.

Until very recently, maybe even still today, Greece treated Albanian and Albanians with contradicting sentiments of fear and arrogance. Albania, and especially the political and journalist establishment of Tirana, faced Greece with fear, suspicion and insecurity. And the last three years arrogance has been added.

Athens asks itself if Tirana really has a visible agenda against Greece (Chams) and Tirana is still worried – unfortunately – about whether Greece has a hidden agenda. This is how they also interpret the sustaining by Athens of the ambiguity in relation to the validity of the legal consequences of the so-called state-of-war.

In reality in our relations it is not logic that rules. The logic of public statements ad misinterpretations dominates. An anachronism dominates.

The specialty that is urgently needed for the exact diagnosis of the relations of the two countries is that of a psychoanalyst and not that of a diplomat. Not that this means that diplomacy is not also a par excellence act of psychology.

The importance and the reach of interventions and operations in the relations of Athens with the Albanian element of third parties such as Serbia, Turkey and Italy must also not be underestimated. But in an underground and in a visible manner.

I have the impression that both Tirana and Athens are quite “comfortable” with today’s situation. In Athens are intervention begins and ends with the declarations of the talented Press officer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In reality the extension of today’s situation does not serve Greece’s interests, while it also continuously weakens the wider role that it had the ambition to play or rather had the ambition to play.

In Tirana I hear all the more frequently ambiguous declarations, official or semi-official, that do not lead to something and will not bring something positive.

I also think that the Vice-President of the Government and Foreign Affairs Minister Edmond Haxhinasto, who theoretically belongs to the so-called modern generation of politicians, should avoid speaking in such a derogatory and contemptuous manner about his willingness to receive “Greek immigrants in Albania”.

If for nothing else, because with this phrase he seemed to justify those in Greece who, twenty years ago, behaved in a derogatory manner to the thousands of Albanian immigrants that traversed the borders on foot so that they could survive.

Can the stagnancy that dominates the relations of Greece with Albania today, combined with the pending issue of the recognition of the Republic of Kosovo, be the backbone of the totality of our policy in our relations with our Albanian neighbours?

Because if we remain simply with the diagnosis and the passive observation of the situation, I cannot see any possibility to leave, in the visible future, the trenches.

About a year ago, I had the opportunity to present at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs a complete proposal-a framework for the resolutions of the pending issues between Greece and Albania, Kosovo and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. In the time that has gone by, I developed my views in interviews for the newspapers Utrinski Vesnik of Skopje, Koha Ditore of Kosovo and Gazetta Skipitare of Tirana.

I also discussed with Albanian leaders, politicians, journalists and representatives of civil society, whose names I purposely omit.

Their reaction was on principle positive, although some considered the procedure complicated. An relative article was published in the [Greek] journal “Defence and Diplomacy [Άμυνα και Διπλωματία] (Dec. 2011).

I note three necessary principles which are at the same time priorities for the Greek policy:

  • Firstly, the pending issues with Albania be definitively closed in the framework of a recognition of Kosovo.
  • Secondly, a holistic approach of Greece to the Albanians of the three neighbouring countries (Albania, FYROM and Kosovo) be adopted.
  • Thirdly, that Greece secure, through this procedure, a satisfactory solution to issues that are of interest to her and that concern her.

The most important card that Greece has today, but that will not last indefinitely, is the recognition of the Republic of Kosovo by Greece. This requires the initiation of a political dialogue, a procedure through which Greece will try to secure her own interests. The proposed platform also includes the following:

  • Commencement of a political dialogue between Athens and Pristina aiming at the development of a mutually acceptable text that will have the form of an Agreement of Pact. After this, it will be submitted for validation to the Assembly of Greece and the Assembly of Kosovo.
  • Securing of the interest of Greece in relation to the totality of the Albanian factor in the countries in the neighbourhood of Greece (Albania, FYROM and Kosovo)
  • Abandoning with acts and not words by Albania and by certain Albanian groups and organisations of offensive for Greece issues that have furthermore been advanced with an unusual force and which cultivate, in a negative fashion, the public opinion.
  • A change of the stance of Albanian Media and the rhetoric of certain Albanian politicians against Greece.
  • Issues concerning the Greek National Minority in Albania.
  • Lifting of the pending issue of the validation of the Agreement for the Definition of the Sea Shelf and of the Sea Zones.
  • A legislative adjustment by Greece for the lifting of the “State of War” with Albania. This is a pending issue that could be combined with the modification of one article of the Agreement for the Definition of the Sea Shelf, so that, with its validation by the Assemblies of Greece and Albania, every misinterpretation in relation with the land and sea borders between the two allied countries will be lifted.

It goes without saying that through this process Greece will take care to protect and secure its interests. The primary rule of this negotiation will be “nothing is considered agreed upon, if there is no general agreement”. Or, of you prefer “there is no small agreement without a total agreement”.

The unavoidable “tomorrow” recognition of the independence of Kosovo by Greece must be a procedure that will start today. It is not something that will happen automatically.

Also, it would be good if Greece examined its own interests outside the framework defined or that we are told that it is defined by Belgrade. Serbia is in a position – and she is already doing so behind closed doors in Brussels – to defend and advance her own interests in relation to Albania and Kosovo. Friendships that have throughout time been one-sided are good, but an effort to secure Greek interests in preferable.

We must also dismantle the dominating concept about the existence of a team of five member-states of the EU that do not recognise Kosovo. There is no such team. These states do not act as a team. For each of them there are different interests and worries, that have led to not taking the decision to recognise Kosovo. The reasons that obstruct Spain are very different from those of Greece.

If Spain recognises Kosovo – something that I do not exclude happening after the government change in November – and I estimate that Romania will not delay in following suit. Slovakia I do not think is a reference point foe Greek politics and diplomacy. The Cypriot Republic is a specific case. She has her own reasons, that are to be respected.

Greece has not said that she will never recognise the independence of Kosovo. Kosovo is an independent state and this will not change. We all know that the state of Kosovo exists and will exist. Greece knows this, everyone else knows this. Serbia knows this.

It is certain that an inhibitory role for Greek policy and a role in increasing the negative predisposition of Greek public opinion has been played during the last years the positions of the Albanian media in Tirana. They do not help the necessary support of an rapprochement between Greece and Prishtina, nor for the recognition of Kosovo. As the declarations and the acts of certain Albanian politicians and certain groups do not help.

I note that the Greek-Albanian Pact of Friendship, Cooperation, Good Neighbourly Relations and Security that was signed on the 21 March 1996 in Tirana and entered into force on the 9 March 1998, has a duration of twenty ears and thus an expiry date. According to Article 20, par. 2, its validity is automatically extended for a further five years, unless one of the two parties announces in writing to the other party its decision to denounce it, at least one ear before the end of the corresponding period. It would be good if both Greece and Albania repeat the bilateral consultations on the basis of Article 17, as had been started in September 2004. So that they do not find themselves confronted with unexpected surprises.

Concerning the Albanians of Skopje.

At this time of nationalist frenzy that is guided by mr Gruevski, the Albanians of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, disappointed by the diminishing perspective of entry into NATO and the European Union, have for the first time the historical opportunity and possibility to achieve that which the Slavomacedonian majority – because that was the choice of their leadership – failed to do.

How? By signing a common political proclamation all the Albanian politicians in Skopje and Tetovo should put aside their personal and party differences and take the following initiative:

  1. To be the bridge of understanding with Greece, marginalizing the nationalist political order of Gruevski.
  2. To contribute catalytically in resolving the issue of the name.
  3. To lead their country into NATO and the European Union.

And something more. Let not mr Gruevski rush, accompanied by the dependant and controlled media, to accuse us and reproach Greece as if she is working on “dark conspiracies” with the Albanians against his country. The reality is different. The Albanians of Skopje, if they themselves realise it and want it, can achieve for their country targets from which his own nationalist politics has distanced it.

The procedure and the perspective of alignment must and can make clear how important Greece is for Albanians and to Greece the important role that our Albanian neighbours have to play in the Balknas.

A good colleague, one of the most knowledgeable on Albania, who read this text, told me that on certain points it is somewhat idealistic.

I could claim that verily the approach that I propose is multileveled and difficult. It demands careful but stable steps and above all an excellent knowledge of the region and the persons that move the strings. It needs mobility, creativity, imagination and dynamism. The contrary, in other words, of the characteristics that have hitherto qualified the moves that have been remarkable for their bureaucratic inertia. It needs diplomacy before and behind the scenes, as well as personal relations of trust with the Albanians. But above all , it demands that a plan be drawn up on a political level.

Alexandros Mallias is a honorary ambassador, Special Advisor to the ELIAMEP.


See also:

  • Panteli Maiko (former Albanian PM): Albania and Greece quo vadis? [Greek. English-coming soon]
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