Greek-Albanian deal?

Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis yesterday got the green light from government and opposition deputies on a parliamentary committee to go ahead with talks with Albania aimed at allowing the ethnic Greeks of Albania to hold dual citizenship. Skandalidis responded to a barrage of questions following Kathimerini’s report yesterday that the government was working toward granting some 300,000 ethnic Greeks from Albania the right to get Greek citizenship. Like members of ruling PASOK, New Democracy members expressed fear that this might endanger the age-old presence of Greeks in southern Albania if at some time an Albanian government forced minority members to choose the citizenship of one country only. But the opposition party also fears that the government could change the electoral landscape radically before next Spring when national elections must be held if it grants Greek citizenship to such a large number of new voters. Government officials say in private that they believe most of Albania’s Greeks tend toward voting for PASOK, but in public they say the elections have nothing to do with the issue. «Many of these people have lived in Greece for more than 10 years and in these cases it is right that they have dual citizenship and this serves national interests,» government spokesman Christos Protopappas said. «We do not see this issue in terms of elections nor with petty political criteria. And I don’t believe that anyone can talk of the single political behavior of people who have lived here for a decade and have become assimilated to a lesser or greater degree.» Skandalidis said that his Albanian counterpart had raised the issue about two months ago. «The government of Albania has no problem with the granting of dual citizenship,» he quoted the Albanian minister as saying. Prime Minister Costas Simitis told him to proceed carefully, the interior minister said, so that a bilateral agreement could be signed. Commenting on the timing of the issue, Skandalidis said Greece had been working on it for the past 10 years, trying to get Tirana to accept dual citizenship. Interior Ministry sources added that even if the bilateral agreement were signed soon, granting citizenship would be a very slow procedure. Deputy Interior Minister Lambros Papademas said that in the last three years 8,000 applications for Greek citizenship had been granted.

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