Albanian pupil’s bitter lesson

For the second time in three years, an Albanian teenager who scored top marks in his senior high school was forced to surrender the right to carry the Greek flag in the October 28 school parade, giving in to strong opposition from Greek schoolmates and their parents. Odhise Qena, 18, announced yesterday that he would not be carrying the flag in next week’s parade because he did not want to spoil a national holiday. Three years ago, when he was the top student in his junior high, he again abdicated the right to carry the flag, in the face of protests by residents of Nea Michaniona, a town on the outskirts of Thessaloniki. This time the protests were nastier, as some 50 pupils, spurred on by parents, staged a sit-in at the town’s senior high for days. Junior high students also walked out. «I feel great disappointment because of my rejection by the majority of my fellow students… I didn’t want to be the reason to spoil a national holiday, or to blacken the name of the local community,» Qena told reporters outside his school. «I thought that people change, that society can change with a second chance, but I was wrong. I declare that I give up the right to carry the flag.» The incident, which took place after a vote by pupils’ parents, highlighted the problems many immigrants face. Theodoros Pangalos, a former foreign minister and leading member of the ruling PASOK party, said that he had urged Interior Minister Costas Skandalidis to use special legislation to grant Qena Greek citizenship within 24 hours. «This will show up the racism, xenophobia and fascist ideas» of the community, he said. Singer and songwriter Dionysis Savvopoulos caustically declared, «In other words, seeing as we can’t make our children better, we eliminate the best so that we can rest easy.»