By Stavros Tzimas
The Greek government’s decision to end the provision of scant pensions to older members of the ethnic Greek minority in southern Albania, previously viewed as a way of maintaining the region’s historical Greek identity, has caused sadness and concern in the ethnic Greek villages. Witnesses have spoken of elderly men and women flocking to the Greek Consulate in Gjirokaster (Argyrokastro in Greek), a town with a large Greek community, with tears in their eyes.
The reactions from minority officials are indicative of the bitter mood among the community. “After the children and young people left en masse for Greece, responsibility for keeping the ethnic Greek minority alive has rested with the older generation,” said Andreas Zarbalas, the first president of the Greek minority party, Omonia.
“Given the rising nationalism and pressure on the Greeks of ‘Northern Epirus,’ these measures will not only harm their dignity but also deal a fatal blow to their existence,” Omonia said in a statement, while the Ethnic Greek Minority for the Future party said, “They never expected that they would be treated as lifeless beings by the homeland.”
Anyone who has been following the decline of the ethnic Greek minority in Albania – mostly a result of extreme and thoughtless policies on the part of the Greek authorities following the collapse of the Balkan country’s communist regime in 1991 – knows that the ethnic Greek presence has been reduced to the elderly who did not want or were not able to leave their ancestral homes. In a bid to encourage these people to remain, the Greek state decided to grant them a small pension of around 300 euros (they also get 30-40 euros from the Albanian state) a month so they could meet their daily needs and hold on to their properties.
After the financial crisis broke out in Greece, those pensions were slashed before being scrapped altogether. As a result, hundreds of old people in Dropull i Siperm (Dropoli), Himare (Himara) and Sarande (Aghioi Saranta) are now left without income so they will either have to move to Greece or sell their properties. If they move to Greece, then the ancient presence of Greeks in the Albanian south will be gone forever. These pensions were given for reasons of national interest and they must not be cut. Their case is different from that of other ethnic Greeks on the pension roll, such as for example those who came here from countries of the former Soviet Union – and it’s not hard to see why. The Greek authorities ought to establish whether those who receive money from the farmers’ pension fund (OGA) include Albanians who were wrongly granted Greek citizenship.