DATED: 23 March 2009
For Immediate Release
Telephone for Questions: (30) 693-6660-129
Membership in NATO & the Application to the European Union
Provides Albania’s Berisha Government Cover
to Ignore the Rule of Law and to Engage in
Wholesale Violations of Human
and Minority Rights
On March 24 Vasilis Bollanos, President of the Omonoia— the ethnic Greek minority organization in Albania— and Mayor of Cheimarra (Alb. Himare), must appear in court to face charges, lodged by the Public Prosecutor of Vlore (Valona), of abuse of authority and of destruction of public property. He faces one year in prison and a fine of about 4,000 euros.
The charges against Bollanos stem from his decision as Mayor of Cheimarra, backed unanimously by the City Council, to remove road signs and other sign posts that had been arbitrarily erected by the Ministry of Ministry of Public Works. Albanian law specifically assigns the responsibility of the erection and maintenance of road signs to local authorities.
Bollanos decision to remove the signs, in addition to the fact that they were erected contrary to Albanian law, was based on the following facts:
1) The Ministry’s significantly diminished the city’s limits, deliberately excluding choice real estate targeted by developers, including relatives of Prime Minister Sali Berisha. It must be recalled that “economic development” not only is the byword for cupidity and greed in Albania, but also has served as a code word for ethnic cleansing.
2) The Ministry’s signs were bilingual, in the Albanian and English languages, pointedly avoiding the Greek language, spoken by the majority the city’s and region’s inhabitants for more than three millennia. This action expresses the denial by Albanian nationalists of the ethnic identity of the Greeks of Cheimarra
3) The content of the Ministry’s sign posts often was distorted or just wrong; for example the sign post presumably identifying the Monastery of the Cross stated “The Church of the Holy Cross,” something that simply is wrong.
The charges filed by the Public Prosecutor against Bollanos represent part of a pattern of the “legal” harassment of the ethnic minority in Albania. It is motivated in part by ethnic discrimination and bigotry, something that is accentuated during the pre-election period (Albania has scheduled elections on June 28 and anti-Greek bigotry plays up to nationalist circles), and in part by cupidity and greed by developers that include the relatives and friends of the Prime minister.
The legal action against Bollanos follows on the heels of a recent decision Albania’s of Court of Appeals, which upheld the conviction of five ethnic Greeks for singing the national anthem of, and holding the flag of Greece during post election celebrations in Cheimarra in 2003.
In another prosecution ten ethnic Greeks were charged with illegal assembly because they protested outside the police precinct of Cheimarra the unjustified and vicious beating of two of their compatriots by police from that precinct.
It should be noted that Albania is being admitted into NATO within days and has just initiated a process, which it hopes will lead to its incorporation into the European Union. Albania has received the solid, even uncritical, support of the Greek government, which has attached very undemanding conditions (which in any case it is loath to enforce).
As if to spite the support given to the Berisha Government by the Greek State, and the European Union of which it is a member, the Albanian authorities initiated harassment actions to coincide with the arrival of Greek officials, to wit,
• on 12 January, while Deputy Minister Kassimis was on an official visit, the abovementioned ten ethnic Greeks were convicted of participation in an illegal assembly, for protesting the beating of two of their compatriots by the police.
• on 4 February, a day before the arrival of Foreign Minister Bakogianni in her official visit as Chairperson of OSCE, the highest court of Albania and after two years of postponements upheld the aforementioned conviction of the five ethnic Greeks (the “Cheimarra Five”) charged with [flag etc]
• on 10 March, one day before the arrival of Deputy Foreign Minister Varvitsiotis on an official visit, after many previous postponements, the court initiated the trial of Mr. Bollanos.
In a democratic state, where the values of civil society form its fabric, it would be inconceivable to promote ethnic discrimination and to enforce it by impugning the legal system to harass minorities.
The trouble is that Albania is not yet fully democratic. and that the practices and impulses of its leadership have been conditioned by its dictatorial past and its current association with what can only be described as organized criminal elements. Its Greek, European and American friends do not serve it well, when they tolerate bigoted, oppressive and corrupt behaviors, which have even infected otherwise respectable international organizations such as the World Bank.
The Cheimarriot Union condemns the Albanian Government’s practices, it demads that it respect our right to our ethnic Greek identity, and to cease violating fundamental civil and human rights in an effort to deny this reality.
The Cheimarriot Union hereby announces that it will submit and appeal of the conviction of the Cheimarra Five at the European Court of Human Rights. We shall furthermore undertake a campaign to inform the European Union, the human rights community and international organizations, of the Albanian government’s civil and human violations, with a view blocking
Chimariot Union "CHIMARA"
44 Kolokotroni str.
GR 10560, Athens